Europe in grips of sweltering heat, authorities urge caution

ROME. KAZINFORM Extreme heat warnings were issued across Europe on Wednesday as the best part of the continent was gripped by the most intense heatwave since records began.

In Italy, red alerts were in force on Wednesday in all but four of the country's 27 main metropolitan area. Temperatures during the hottest part of the day were considered a threat to even young and healthy individuals, Xinhua reports.

In Spain, the heatwave in more than 30 districts in the southern and eastern parts of the country was classified as «extreme,» the most severe of the five categories.

Authorities in Greece issued health warnings for most of the country, warning residents and visitors against going outside during the hottest part of the day except for «essential» reasons.

Extremely high temperatures were recorded in at least a dozen European countries this week (Albania, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Switzerland).

The authorities in the United Kingdom (UK) have issued formal travel alerts to the country's citizens who planned to travel to Greece, Italy or Spain, warning them to take precautions against the heat if they travel there, though stopping short of allowing them to be compensated for canceled trips.

The soaring temperatures and dry weather have also sparked wildfires, causing massive economic and social damage.

In Spain, a wildfire on the Canary Island of La Palma has burned over 3,500 hectares of land and destroyed around 20 houses and buildings. Wildfires in Greece have been raging for a third day on Wednesday, destroying forests and forcing people to evacuate, while Greek authorities warned of strong winds and a second heatwave for later this week.

The heatwave comes as Europe is about to relaunch its tourism sector. Early indications are that 2023 will be the strongest year for tourism on the continent since 2019, the record-setting year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has reported that in the first quarter of this year, the number of travelers in Europe was around 90 percent the level from the same period in 2019, and early data from the second quarter show even stronger results, meaning the totals for the year as a whole may ultimately surpass 2019 figures.

On Sunday and Tuesday, temperatures in Italy's island regions of Sicily and Sardinia and in Spain's Canary Islands may have surpassed the all-time high temperature for Europe, which is 48.8 degrees Celsius set two years ago, though that has not been certified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

But the WMO said this week it is «monitoring potential new temperature records» -- not only in Europe but in the entire Mediterranean basin, plus in North America, Northern Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

«Intense heat is gripping large parts of the Northern Hemisphere in this summer of extremes,» the WMO said in a statement released on Tuesday. «New daily and station temperature records have been broken, and it is possible that some national records may fall. The World Meteorological Organization will examine any potential new continental temperature records as the heatwave continues.»

According to the WMO, the unusually hot weather in Europe and beyond -- last month was the hottest June ever recorded and July is also getting hotter -- shows the importance of planning for extreme weather events.

«Heat is a rapidly growing health risk due to burgeoning urbanization, an increase in high temperature extremes, and demographic changes in countries with ageing populations,» the WMO said.

«More intense and extreme heat is unavoidable -- it is imperative to prepare and adapt as cities, homes, workplaces are not built to withstand prolonged high temperatures,» said John Nairn, senior WMO extreme heat advisor, in a statement.

«Vulnerable people are not sufficiently aware of the seriousness of the risk heat poses to their health and wellbeing,» he noted.

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