LONDON (Reuters) - Premature deaths from heatwaves in Britain could more than treble to around 7,000 a year by mid-century if the government does not take action, a committee of lawmakers said on Thursday.
The warning is topical as Britain swelters in a heatwave, with temperatures of 32-34 degrees Celsius possible in southern and eastern England this week, according to the UK Met Office.
The lawmakers called on the government to develop a strategy to protect the health of the elderly in periods of extreme heat.
In August 2003, a 10-day heatwave across Europe was thought to be the warmest for up to 500 years. The heatwave led to more than 20,000 deaths across Europe, including 15,000 in France alone and 2,193 in Britain.
The highest temperature in Britain was recorded at 38.5 degrees Celsius. A similar heatwave occurred in July 2006 and there have been periods of unusually hot weather or heatwaves in July 2013, July 2015, July-September 2016, June 2017, April 2018 and June-July 2018.
The Met Office predicts there is a risk that similarly intense heatwaves will occur every other year by the 2040s and the average number of heat-related deaths in Britain will more than triple to 7,000 a year by the 2050s, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee said in a report.
The government is failing to address the danger of heatwaves, the committee warned.
“Heatwave warnings are welcomed as barbecue alerts but they threaten health, wellbeing and productivity,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the committee.
“The government must stop playing pass the parcel with local councils and the National Health Service (NHS) and develop a strategy to protect our ageing population from this increasing risk,” she added.
Heatwaves and more extreme weather are expected to become more frequent in the future due to the effects of climate change.
As well as public health, heatwaves have negative effects on infrastructure such as transport, digital systems and water supply.
In 2010, around five million staff days were lost due to overheating above 26 degrees C. Based on an average cost of 150 pounds ($197) a day, this resulted in an economic loss of 770 million pounds, the report said.
The committee urged the government to ensure the NHS issues heatwave guidance and is prepared for more frequent heatwaves.
Resilience to extreme heat in hospitals, buildings, transport and homes should be improved and stricter water efficiency standards introduced.
Businesses should be made aware of the threat of heatwaves and economic consequences and a consultation on maximum workplace temperatures launched.
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Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Stephen Powell