Climate change is already affecting and increasing the risk of extreme weather events in European countries with an unequivocal impact on human health. Heat waves have been associated with a substantial short-term increases in mortality ranging from 7.6% to 33.6% in urban areas of Europe (EuroHEAT project). The PHEWE project estimated up to 3.30% increase in respiratory mortality for 1°C decrease in apparent temperature. In southern Europe and in semi-arid areas, a decrease of up to 20% in precipitation is expected with an associated increase in the frequency of forest fires. Epidemiological studies indicate an association between the levels of air pollutants produced from forest fires and health, but little is known in the European context. Up to 20% of the European's population live in river basins that are likely to be affected by increased flood hazard. Many European countries have flood emergency plans but limited evidence of their effectiveness and on vulnerability indicators is to date available. The air pollutant concentrations and in particular ozone and fine particulate matter, may alter in response to climate change in the European context.
The general aim of the project is to provide the public health sector with a shared set of tools for the implementation of preventive actions for reducing the impact of extreme weather events (heat waves, cold spells) and their environmental consequences (floods, wildfires, air pollution) on the population's health, especially in vulnerable/susceptible population subgroups.
The project addresses cross-border health threats and promotes the collaboration between different sectors (public health, environmental, civil protection, policy makers etc) to improve preparedness and response to health emergencies at the local, national and international level.
The project builds on findings from previous EU studies, and creates a synergy between the epidemiological and the public health sectors.
Methods and means
Prevention guidelines will be developed on the basis of epidemiologic reviews of effect estimates, overviews of existing preventive measures and case studies for risk and health impact assessment. Advanced tools are used as spatial analysis using Geographic Information System (GIS) to identify high risk areas and dispersion modelling to estimate population exposure. A questionnaire is defined to survey existing prevention activities in European countries. Methodologies for the selection of vulnerable population subgroups have been defined on the basis of epidemiological evidence and case studies.
The project has the aim of bridging the gaps and increasing knowledge on:
- the health effects of extreme weather events and their environmental consequences
- indicators to monitor the impact on health of extreme events
- determinants of vulnerability to specific extreme events
- performance and effectiveness of warning systems and prevention activities
- Synergies between air pollution, extreme weather events, and wild fires
The project is expected to increase population/institution awareness and to improve evidence-based prevention policies towards local populations.