At least 15,000 people have died in Europe because of hot weather in 2022 so far, the World Health Organization said Monday, with Spain and Germany among the worst-affected countries.
The three months from June-August were the hottest in Europe since records began, and the exceptionally high temperatures led to the worst drought the continent has witnessed since the Middle Ages.
“Based on country data submitted so far, it is estimated that at least 15,000 people died specifically due to the heat in 2022,” the WHO’s Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.
“Nearly 4,000 deaths in Spain, more than 1,000 in Portugal, more than 3,200 in the United Kingdom, and around 4,500 deaths in Germany were reported by health authorities during the 3 months of summer,” he added.
“This estimate is expected to increase as more countries report on excess deaths due to heat,” it said, highlighting the UN climate summit in Egypt and its calls for rapid action.
Crops withered in European breadbaskets, as the historic dry spell drove record wildfire intensity and placed severe pressure on the continent’s power grid.
At least 10 people died and four were missing after violent storms lashed central Italy, reports said Friday, pushing the issue of climate change up the agenda the week before elections.
Water swept through towns and villages, turning streets into rivers after about 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain reportedly fell in two hours.
Emergency services initially put the death toll at seven but this rose mid-morning to 10, according to the AGI news agency, citing local authorities.
One of those earlier reported missing was a child travelling in a car. The mother was rescued but the child was washed away by the floodwaters, AGI said.
The fire service said it had 300 people working on the floods and “dozens of people” had been saved overnight after they took refuge on roofs of houses and in trees.
The worst hit area was Ancona, a port city on the Adriatic, where several areas were without electricity or telephone connections. Schools were closed Friday in the affected zones.
The streets of the port town of Senigallia, a little up the coast, were turned into rivers, while aerial footage of the inland hamlet of Pianello di Ostra showed streets caked with mud and cars piled up after being swept away.
The tragedy occurs just days before September 25 general elections, and condolences for those affected poured in from across the political spectrum.
Frontrunner Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party is hoping to become prime minister, offered “full solidarity” with those affected.
The president of the region surrounding Ancona, Marche, is a member of her party.
Extreme climate events
The flooding came after a drought in Italy, and many have drawn the link with climate change — a subject which has taken a back seat during the election campaign.
“How can you think that the fight against climate change is not the first priority?” said Meloni’s main rival, Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party.
He said he was “stunned and speechless” at the news from Marche, saying he was suspending campaigning in the region.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said its teams were heading to help.
“Very concerned by the growth of extreme weather events,” he said on Twitter.
This summer’s drought, the worst in 70 years, drained the Po River, Italy’s largest water reservoir.
The baking heat has in recent weeks been followed by storms, the water flooding land rendered hard as concrete.
In July, 11 people were killed when a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier gave way, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.
The EU’s economy commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, a former Italian premier, said he shed tears for the victims of the floods in Marche.
“Italy and Europe must take climate change seriously,” he tweeted.
Strong rain, winds and flash floods are expected in northern and central Turkey on Monday, after a weekend of flooding that reportedly killed at least four people.
Bad weather warnings were in place in 42 towns and cities in the north and centre, including the capital, Ankara.
Schools were closed in Ankara and the central town of Gemerek.
Last year, around 100 people died in violent weather events in Turkey, including flash floods, wildfires and droughts.
The disasters pushed climate change up the political agenda, especially among younger voters.
Torrential rains and hailstorms swept through the north and centre at the weekend, causing floods that killed three people near Ankara and another in the central province of Karaman, local media reported.
Rescue services were still searching on Monday for a person missing in the Ankara region.
Several towns were damaged by the floods.
Eight villages in the northern province of Kastamonu were still cut off on Monday after several roads collapsed.
India has relaxed environmental compliance rules for coal mines seeking to ramp up production as power outages exacerbate a sweltering heatwave, a government notice showed.
Coal makes up more than two-thirds of India’s energy needs, even as unseasonably hot weather illustrates the threat from climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.
Soaring temperatures have prompted higher energy demand in recent weeks and left India facing a 25-million-tonne shortfall at a time when coal spot prices have skyrocketed since the start of the year.
In a letter dated May 7 seen by AFP, the Environment Ministry said it has allowed a “special dispensation” to the Ministry of Coal to relax certain requirements — like public consultations — so mines could operate at increased capacities.
The relaxation comes after it received a request from the Ministry of Coal “stating that there is huge pressure on domestic coal supply in the country and all efforts are being made to meet the demand of coal for all sectors”.
Coal mining projects previously cleared to operate at 40-percent capacity may now increase capacity to 50 percent without undertaking fresh environment impact studies, the authority said.
The letter coincided with the government launching a new scheme last week to lease abandoned state-owned coal pits to private mining companies, assuring them of fast-track environment approvals.
“The Ministry of Environment and Forests understands that they need to cut out the red tape,” coal ministry official Anil Kumar Jain said at the launch event Friday.
The government hopes to woo private mining giants — like Vedanta and Adani — to revive more than 100 dormant coal mines previously deemed too expensive to operate, using new technology and fresh capital.
– Coal needs set to double -India needs a billion tonnes of coal annually to meet its current domestic demand.
Most of its needs are met by domestic producers, with a record 777 million tonnes mined in the fiscal year to the end of March.
The shortfall is imported from countries like Indonesia, Australia and South Africa.
The government says it plans to increase domestic coal production to 1.2 billion tonnes in the next two years to support a post-pandemic economic recovery.
Despite a commitment to increase its renewable energy capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022 and 500 gigawatts by 2030, Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi said Friday that India’s coal needs are set to double by 2040.
A renewed focus on accelerating coal production risks India missing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s COP26 commitment to meet 50 percent of energy demand through renewable energy by 2030, according to experts.
The world’s third-biggest carbon emitter, already home to 1.4 billion people, is projected by the UN to become the planet’s most populous nation by the middle of the decade.
Similar heatwaves after 2003 caused significantly lower fatalities “as adaptation measures were taken in different countries and by different actors”, such as the installation of air conditioners, the EEA noted in a statement.
Globally, the World Meteorological Organisation estimates that the number of weather-related disasters has increased over the past 50 years, causing more damage but fewer deaths.
In Europe, the EEA said the data from the past 40 years does not allow for a definite conclusion to be drawn about whether the increase is due to climate change, because of the very irregular damage recorded in different years.
“All the hazards we describe as weather- and climate-related are influenced by climatic conditions. This said that is not the same as saying they are all influenced by climate change,” EEA expert Wouter Vanneuville told AFP.
Recent studies, notably the work of the IPCC, indicate that the frequency and severity of events such as drought and forest fires are easier to link to climate change, he said.
For others, such as hailstorms, there is still a lack of evidence.
“For some types, like non-tropical storms, the climate signal in Europe is unclear so it is uncertain if they will increase or not,” he said.
“But for others — like droughts, not only in the Mediterranean but over most of Europe — will intensify based on climate predictions.”
Germany was the country in Europe that suffered the most with losses amounting to 107 million euros ($120 million) and 42,000 victims, over the past four decades.
This was followed by France (99 billion euros in damages and 26,700 deaths) and Italy (90 billion euros and 21,600 deaths).
Only 23 percent of material damages across Europe were covered by insurance, but there are also massive disparities between countries.
In Romania and Lithuania, only one percent was insured compared to 55 percent in the Netherlands or 56 percent in Denmark.
Disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not included in these figures, as they are not meteorological.
According to a similar report by the US weather agency NOAA, the US has suffered 310 weather and climate disasters since 1980, with total damage exceeding $2,155 billion.
Nine children and an adult were killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on an Alabama highway as heavy storms lashed the southeastern US, authorities said Sunday.
Saturday’s crash on an interstate highway near the city of Greenville involved at least 15 vehicles and was “probably” caused by hydroplaning under torrential rains, Butler County coroner Wayne Garlock told AFP.
Storm Claudette dumped up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in the Gulf Coast region Saturday. It was blamed for at least two other deaths.
The dead in the crash included a father and his nine-month-old daughter in an SUV, and eight occupants of a van — aged four to 17 — from a “girls ranch” for neglected and abused children, local media reported.
“This was probably the most horrific accident in Butler County history,” Sheriff Danny Bond told the al.com website.
He said at least two of the vehicles involved were 18-wheel trucks, and that four or five other people had suffered nonfatal injuries.
The driver of the van was pulled out alive by a bystander, witnesses said. The bystander then tried to help the children but was prevented by a fierce fire engulfing the vehicle, Garlock said.
The van driver was identified as Candice Gully, director of the girls farm in Tallapoosa County, an official with the state ranch system told al.com.
‘Suffered a great loss’
The SUV driver was identified as Cody Fox, 29, an emergency management worker from Tennessee. His fiancee was injured in the wreck.
Garlock said the crash scene was in an area notorious for hydroplaning as Interstate 65 curves down a steep hill.
Northbound and southbound traffic on the busy highway was halted for hours by the accident, but both had reopened by Sunday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said on Twitter.
The Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch said it was providing grief counselors for children there.
“Our hearts are heavy today. Our ranch has suffered great loss… Please send prayers our way,” the ranch’s account said on Twitter.
The van in the accident was one of two bringing children back from a weeklong beach outing to nearby Gulf Shores, al.com reported. The other van was unscathed.
Storm Claudette, later downgraded to a tropical depression, has dumped heavy rain across the southeastern US.
The Tuscaloosa News said two people died — a 24-year-old man and his three-year-old son — when a tree fell on their house.
Claudette is forecast to return to tropical storm status on Monday over eastern North Carolina, before weakening again by Tuesday.
The system has washed out roads, trapped motorists in their cars, and flooded residential areas in the region, and the National Hurricane Center warned that further flooding was likely.
Rescuers raced to save nearly 200 whales stuck in a remote Australian harbour on Tuesday, hoping to minimise the death toll of a mass stranding which had already killed 90.
Officials said at least 25 of the mammals had been freed so far.
A large pod of long-finned pilot whales is currently stuck on a sandbar in Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s rugged and sparsely populated west coast, scientists said.
Images from the scene showed a shallow body of water, thick with scores of the large slick-black creatures manoeuvering for space, and rescuers wading in as they worked to refloat the whales in deeper passages.
About 60 people — including volunteers and local fish-farm workers — are involved in the rescue attempt.
Government marine biologist Kris Carlyon said “about a third” of the 270 animals were dead by late Monday, and that rescuing survivors would be a challenging task likely to take several days.
But there were hopes Tuesday that efforts were already paying off, with at least 25 rescued and escorted to open ocean by boats, according to the official leading the operation.
“We have now freed a small number successfully that appear to have stayed out at sea, and are now scaling up that approach,” Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
Though mass whale strandings occur relatively often in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.
The animals are only accessible by boat, limiting the number of rescuers who can reach them.
They are battling chilly and rainy conditions as well as the harbour’s unusual tides, which are dictated by barometric pressure.
“In terms of mass whale strandings in Tasmania, this is up there with the trickiest,” Carlyon told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
However, Carlyon said many of the partially submerged whales should be able to survive for the several days it would take his team to complete the task, in part due to the inclement weather.
“It’s pretty ugly for people on the ground but as far as the whales go its ideal — it’s keeping them wet, it’s keeping them cool,” he said.
Carlyon said rescuers would still have to “triage” the whales, prioritising the healthiest and most accessible.
– ‘Notorious whale trap’ –
Most of a 30-strong group of whales on a nearby beach were found dead Monday, though two were saved and released.
About 60 others on the sandbar are also believed to have since died and Carlyon said it was “inevitable that we’ve lost more”, but a detailed assessment using infrared cameras from the air was planned for Wednesday.
Once the whales are returned to deeper water, Carlyon said, the biggest challenge is herding the social creatures out of the sandbar-riddled harbour — and hoping they don’t swim back to the remaining pod.
Scientists said it was unclear what caused the latest stranding, but Carlyon suggested the pod may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Karen Stockin, an expert in marine mammals at New Zealand’s Massey University, said Tasmania was a “particular hotspot” for pilot whale strandings in large pods.
“It seems to be a notorious whale trap… you do tend to get these mass stranding events there,” she told AFP.
Stockin said that while pilot whales were typically more resilient than other whale species, rescuers faced a race against the clock as the mammals can overheat, their muscles deteriorate and their organs become crushed outside their natural environment.
“Time is never your friend,” she said. “So without doubt, the more expedited rescue missions are, the more likely there is an increased (chance) of survival.”
Mike Double, the head of the Tasmania-based Australian Marine Mammal Centre, said it was “tragic” that such a massive pod had become stranded, but other whales had previously been saved from the same location.
“The state team responsible for responding are extremely experienced and they’ll be absolutely working incredibly hard to get the best possible outcome,” he said.
At least 43 bodies have been recovered after a massive landslide triggered by monsoon rains swept away dozens of tea estate workers in southwestern India, police said Sunday.
The landslide in Idukki district, around 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Kerala state’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, occurred Friday but the ongoing search and rescue efforts have been hampered by torrential downpours.
The toll rose to 43 on Sunday afternoon, Idukki district’s police chief, R. Karuppasamy, told AFP.
Twenty-six of the bodies were recovered on Friday night, a police official said earlier Sunday.
Local media reported that some 78 people were believed to live in the area, with many still missing.
Kerala has been hit by deadly floods during the annual monsoon.
At least 18 people died in a passenger jet crash in Kerala on Friday when an Air India Express jet overshot the runway while trying to land in a storm and plunged down a bank.
The monsoon across South Asia is critical to replenishing rivers and groundwater, but also causes widespread death and destruction.
More than 300 people have died in floods and landslides in eastern and northeastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal in recent weeks.
Avalanches, flooding and harsh winter weather has killed more than 110 people across Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent days, officials said Tuesday, as authorities struggled to reach people stranded by heavy snowfall.
At least 75 people died and 64 were injured across Pakistan, with several still missing, while a further 39 people were killed in Afghanistan, according to officials in both countries.
Forecasts suggest more harsh weather is on the way.
Pakistani Kashmir was the worst-hit area, with 55 people killed and 10 others missing, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.
In the picturesque but conflict-riven Neelum Valley in Kashmir, heavy snowfall triggered several avalanches, including one that killed at least 19 people.
“An avalanche hit their village, 10 people are still missing,” the NDMA said.
Frequent avalanches and landslides occur in Kashmir during the winter, often blocking roads and leaving communities isolated.
Authorities have shuttered schools, while several highways and roads were closed across the country’s northern mountainous areas, according to officials.
To the southeast in Balochistan province, at least 20 people had been killed in separate weather-related incidents.
“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohammad Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that hundreds remained stranded.
Across the border in Afghanistan, more than 300 houses were either destroyed or partially damaged throughout the country, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi a spokesman for the Natural Disaster Management Authority.
“A cold snap, heavy snowfall and rains that started two weeks ago have caused damage,” he said, adding that most casualties were caused after roofs collapsed under thick snow.
Hardest hit were southern Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and western Herat provinces.
In Herat, seven people — all members of the same family and including children — died when their roof caved in, Azimi added.
Harsh winters often take a heavy toll in mountainous Afghanistan, and the country remains poor despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community.