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Germany draws up plan to prevent heat wave deaths

June 13, 2023

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says Germany is not properly prepared for heat waves, which have become more severe as a result of climate change.

A thermometer on a house wall
Image: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/picture alliance

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Tuesday warned that Germany was ill-prepared for soaring summer temperatures and promised a plan to remedy the situation.

As a result of climate change, he said, Germany will be more severely affected by heat waves in the future and that lessons needed to be learned from other countries like France.

What the minister said

"We have to realize that we are not well positioned in Germany to combat heat death," said Lauterbach, himself a qualified doctor and public health expert.

He conceded that 5,000 to 20,000 Germans were dying of avoidable heat-related deaths each year, saying this was "not acceptable."

"If we do nothing, we will lose several thousand lives every year, unnecessarily," Lauterbach said adding that deaths directly attributed to the heat were only "the tip of the iceberg."

He said many people would also need care because, for example, they suffer heart attacks or strokes after falling prey to heat stroke.

German farmers feel the heat

The minister said the consultations would take place quickly so that measures can already be implemented this year.

Germany last year had a sweltering summer, with the country's DWD weather service pointing to extreme heat waves, record periods of sunshine, and persistent dry conditions. The DWD said 2022 had been one of the warmest since records began, not only in Germany but in Europe as a whole.

What might the plan look like?

Lauterbach is planning a heat protection plan based on the French model, which defines different degrees of severity of a heat wave and links them to specific measures in each case.

These could include targeting messages to sick and elderly people about the symptoms of impending heat stroke and protective measures they might take.

The measures could also include the provision of protective cooling rooms and free water dispensers.

Lauterbach said he wanted to bring together expertise from an array of professionals, including nurses, doctors, local and state officials and hospital clinics.

The plan is for Lauterbach to meet representatives of various sectors to work in a "concerted action" in the coming weeks toward a national heat protection plan.

Last year, the German federal government saw no need for a national heat action plan and referred to the responsibility of the municipalities.

However, only a few municipalities so far have a heat protection plan, with many hospitals also lacking a strategy.

France's heat wave action plan, known as "Plan Canicule," is a comprehensive and proactive strategy aimed at protecting vulnerable populations during periods of extreme heat. The plan was established following a devastating heat wave in 2003 that resulted in thousands of deaths across the country.

It includes a color-coded alert system with four levels based on temperature thresholds. The measures include public awareness campaigns, home visits, public cooling facilities, healthcare preparedness, and data monitoring.

rc/jcg (AFP, dpa)

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