Preventing heat-related morbidity and mortality: New approaches in a changing climate

Due to global climate change, the world will, on average, experience a higher number of heat waves, and the intensity and length of these heat waves is projected to increase. Knowledge about the implications of heat exposure to human health is growing, with excess mortality and illness occurring during hot weather in diverse regions. Certain groups, including the elderly, the urban poor, and those with chronic health conditions, are at higher risk. Preventive actions include: establishing heat wave warning systems; making cool environments available (through air conditioning or other means); public education; planting trees and other vegetation; and modifying the built environment to provide proper ventilation and use materials and colors that reduce heat build-up and optimize thermal comfort. However, to inspire local prevention activities, easily understood information about the strategies' benefits needs to be incorporated into decision tools. Integrating heat health information into a comprehensive adaptation planning process can alert local decision-makers to extreme heat risks and provide information necessary to choose strategies that yield the largest health improvements and cost savings. Tools to enable this include web-based programs that illustrate effective methods for including heat health in comprehensive local-level adaptation planning; calculate costs and benefits of several activities; maps showing zones of high potential heat exposure and vulnerable populations in a local area; and public awareness materials and training for implementing preventive activities. A new computer-based decision tool will enable local estimates of heat-related health effects and potential savings from implementing a range of prevention strategies. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.