Spain announces new department to study effects of very hot weather on health
Global OHS News Extreme Heat Spain
By Jennifer O’mahony
Spain sweltered in its first official heat wave of the year on Monday as the government announced a new department to investigate and alleviate the effects of extreme temperatures on human health.
The state weather agency, AEMET, said temperatures were predicted to hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in the country’s south during the hot spell, expected to last until Thursday, and noted that heat waves have become more common during the month of June over the last 12 years.
Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera said the country’s rising temperatures put vulnerable populations at risk, and more work is needed to understand how to prepare for longer, hotter summers. “We must investigate what happens to our bodies in response to the effects of climate change, in order to mitigate the consequences on our health,” Ribera said.
The proposal to create the new department, called the Observatory for Health and Climate Change, will be presented to Spain’s Cabinet next month ahead of a snap general election on July 23.
Spain has already banned outdoor work during periods of extreme heat after the death of a municipal worker in Madrid last summer, and set legal maximum and minimum temperatures for workplaces.
The city of Barcelona also operates a network of more than 200 climate shelters to shield people from the heat.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch warned that the country was not doing enough to protect people with disabilities from extreme temperatures.
“People with disabilities are at high risk of harm from exposure to extreme heat, including risk of death and physical, social, and mental health distress, especially when they are left to cope with dangerous temperatures on their own,” said Jonas Bull, assistant disability rights researcher at the organization.
Spanish researchers at the Carlos III Health Institute recently published a paper showing that urban environments without tree cover or adapted building materials can experience temperatures up to 11 C (20 F) higher than the nearby countryside. The phenomenon, known as “heat islands,” affects densely populated Spanish cities such as Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona.
Last year was Spain’s hottest ever, and spring 2023 was also declared the hottest on record. The Iberian Peninsula is currently the driest territory in Europe as a prolonged drought extends into summer, the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service said on Monday.