Let Us Count the Ways the Heat Can Kill You: It’s 27

Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq on watchlist for hunger due to dual threat of global warming and coronavirus: It's time for the Haaretz climate change briefs

Ruth Schuster
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Iraqis swimming in the Tigris River in central Baghdad, June 29, 2020. All the pools have been closed due to the COVID-19 crisis as Iraq faces a heat wave.
Iraqis swimming in the Tigris River in central Baghdad, June 29, 2020. All the pools have been closed due to the COVID-19 crisis as Iraq faces a heat wave. Credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP
Ruth Schuster

Heat waves have been baking the United States in July, making many headlines, and sub-Saharan Africa, making less headlines.  This follows record-breaking Arctic temperatures last month, while May roasted the Middle East – which one might think would know how to cope. It doesn't really. This is an opportune time to note that somebody once counted the ways heat can kill us in this era of climate change. Here is a helpful link to the source article listing the 27 ways. Enjoy.

Frankly, even the Middle East isn’t used to day after day when the heat index (how hot it “feels”) is unbearable. Now add COVID-19 to the simmering stew. Even if a given city has “cooling centers” where people, assuming they’re not under coronavirus lockdown, can congregate to enjoy some air-conditioning or a cool pool – should they be opened, risking more proximity and infection?

Which leads us to the latest United Nations report on COVID-19, climate change and risks to the food supply.

Lebanon, Syria and Iraq on UN watchlist for hunger

Around 25 countries will likely face devastating hunger in the months to come as the coronavirus adds to the woes of climate change, the UN warned last week. The virus’ contribution includes global recession and diminished household income to spend on food, while both the disease and climate change are impacting and will impact food availability – and we don’t mean fewer brands of flour or toilet paper on grocery shelves. The report also dwells on diminished governmental capacity to help and on the implications for political stability.

Israel isn’t among the anticipated food insecurity hot spots, but the economically impaired states of Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Syria are, and so is all of northwest South America. Ditto much of sub-Saharan Africa and central America, according to the UN. A Brookings Institution blog dwells on the special food security travails of the Middle East: The problem isn’t necessarily food availability, argues Omer Karasapan; it’s access to food, chiefly but not exclusively in war-torn Yemen and Syria.

Wheat being bagged in Syria. The Coronavirus and climate change are impacting and will impact food availability
Wheat being bagged in Syria. The Coronavirus and climate change are impacting and will impact food availability.Credit: AFP

Europe’s forests already evincing heat stress

The heat and drought afflicting Central Europe in 2018 was record-breaking and did long-term damage to forests, according to a new report from University of Basel ecologists in the journal of Basic and Applied Ecology. Temperatures ran 3.3 degrees Celsius above average during the growing season. The heat and drought caused leaves to shrivel and fall, and outright killed a lot of trees, and unexpectedly strong drought-legacy effects were detected in 2019, the team writes. Which means the trees didn’t physiologically rebound, leaving them vulnerable, for instance, to pests. And while drought and heat are expected to increase, the team suggests that many common temperate European forest trees are more vulnerable to extreme drought and heat than previously thought.

The dual risk of obesity

Also worth repeating is that obesity in and of itself is a risk factor for severe COVID-19, as was reported yet again this week in the European Journal of Endocrinology: anyone with BMI of over 30 runs a significantly higher risk of respiratory failure. Why obesity is a risk factor for COVID complications is another matter – that’s still being studied, though there are theories. The obese are also at heightened risk of heat-related illness, a matter now also demonstrated in dogs.

Don’t have a hot cow, man

Exposing cows to heat stress in late pregnancy impacts not only their milk but their daughters and granddaughters, scientists report in the Journal of Dairy Science. It had been shown that the daughters of heat-stressed cows are smaller; now it is also shown that the survival rates, life span and lactation performance are at stake for the next two generations. The advice to dairy farmers: don’t cool just your lactating cows; keep your pregnant cows comfortable too.

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