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Heatwaves: UK lives at risk from ‘dangerous perception gap’, warns Red Cross

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The dangers from heatwaves are not being matched by the level of public concern, the British Red Cross has said, as it warned of the risks of a ‘dangerous perception gap’.

The humanitarian charity has sounded the alarm in a new report, which assesses how prepared the UK public was for rising temperatures. It warned of a “dangerous perception gap in the UK when it comes to the public’s awareness of the risk of heat”.

This is in spite of a record 2,556 excess deaths from heat last summer, and a prediction that 7,000 people could die from heat every year by 2050.

Yet Brits see the word ‘heatwave’ in a positive light, associating it with good weather, with more than a third (37 per cent) believing that heatwaves will be a problem in the future, not now.

The poll of 2,000 people for the report found many in high-risk groups such as the over-75s don’t perceive themselves to be especially vulnerable.

A dog licks an ice-cream during the heatwave in Skegness, eastern England, July 19, 2006. In Britain, Wednesday's temperatures were expected to top 37 degrees Celcius (98.6 Fahrenheit), hitting an all-time high for July. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN)
Image: Level of public concern not matching risk from heatwaves, warns the British Red Cross

The report follows a recent warning from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that slammed the government for allowing more than half a million (570,000+) new homes to be been built without features to cope with higher temperatures.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, said: “This report should serve as a call to arms to start building and adapting our homes, hospitals, care homes, offices, infrastructure and transport networks to minimise the risk.”

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He called for a public awareness campaign and said improving access to green space in urban areas would also help “but instead, our parks and recs are in decline”.

“Nobody should lose their life as a result of extreme heat; if we take steps now to educate and adapt we’ll have a better chance of avoiding worse problems further down the track.”

Tatiana Toth runs through a fountain in Nottingham, Britain June 30, 2015. Britain's Meteorological Office has warned of the possibility of heatwave conditions, with temperatures reaching their highest of the year on Tuesday and Wednesday. REUTERS/Darren Staples
Image: Many Brits see the word ‘heatwave’ in a positive light in spite of the risks they pose, the report found

Only last week the Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning for the UK, designed to put the dangers of rising temperatures onto everyone’s radar.

Met Office head of civil contingencies Will Lang said: “As a result of climate change, heatwaves are becoming longer and more extreme, and many people’s health and wellbeing will continue to suffer as a result.

“With more hot conditions likely this summer, it is so important that the public understands the risks that heatwaves can bring, and to improve awareness of heat risk among the general public and also ensure that advice and support reaches the most vulnerable ahead of a heatwave.”

Though not deadly for all, heatwaves can also exacerbate underlying health conditions, such as kidney and heart disease. They can also trigger drought, as experienced in West Sussex last year.

The British Red Cross urges the public before a heatwave to keep informed by following weather alerts, knowing who is at risk, keeping up with any medication.

The charity advises during a heatwave people should avoid excess alcohol, limit strenuous physical activity, take a cold bath or shower to cool down and wear light-weight loose-fitting clothes. To keep homes cooler, it suggests covering windows from sunlight and opening windows when the air feels cooler outside.

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