Extreme Heat and Drought Events Require More Comprehensive Risk Assessment: Study

Zurich [Switzerland], Aug 11 (ANI): The economy, public health and food production are just some of the effects of simultaneous extreme heat and drought events. Furthermore, as a result of intricate socio-economic connections, these extreme events can have a ripple effect, according to research from the University of Zurich. To increase the resilience of affected regions, more systematic risk assessments are required.

The results of the research were published in the journal ‘PLOS Climate’.

In many parts of Europe, the summer of 2022 has been brutal: long periods of drought combined with record temperatures. Heat waves, water shortages and forest fires are especially affecting southern, western and central Europe. These mutually reinforcing extreme weather events affect a wide range of sectors and systems: health, agriculture, food production, energy supply and ecosystems, as well as the economy and society at large.

Large financial losses due to extreme heat and droughtTo better understand the consequences of these types of extreme weather events in different areas, researchers from the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich (UZH) analyzed eight extreme heat and drought events in Europe, Australia and Africa that occur during the last 20 years. In addition to examining the direct and indirect consequences for various sectors and systems, they also studied the impact of responses to such events.

“Financial losses, for example, can be substantial,” said Laura Niggli, first author of the study. “In the cases studied, they ranged from several hundred million to several billion US dollars.” In extreme cases, such as the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, losses amounted to approximately US$100 billion, equivalent to more than 5% of Australia’s GDP.

Additional damage due to cascading effects As the researchers show, the effects of simultaneous heat and drought are not just limited to their individual direct effects on different areas. “We identified an interconnected web of sectors that directly and indirectly interact, causing additional loss and damage in several other sectors, notably health, energy, agriculture and food supply,” said Niggli, a doctoral candidate .

It is this multi-layered interconnectedness that makes extreme event risks so complex and critical. Cascading effects ripple across numerous sectors and can have far-reaching consequences for critical systems. “Simultaneous climate extremes are potentially capable of destabilizing important systems for society, such as world trade,” Niggli notes.

The analysis also shows that adaptation measures taken against extreme heat and drought events were mostly reactive and limited in scope. In several cases, the scientists found evidence of policy misalignment: that is, actions taken by one sector sometimes had negative effects on other sectors, particularly in the energy and water sectors, the economy, society, culture and the ecosystems.

More systematic risk assessment for better adaptability This would help improve the adaptability and resilience of affected regions.

“This is especially important as the future is likely to see unprecedented combined extreme events with cascading effects that exceed all previous historical events. These effects need to be carefully analyzed to support adaptive and reactive action planning,” said Professor of UZH of UZH. geography Christian Huggel, who led the study.

As the climate gets warmer, extreme heat and drought events will occur more frequently, be more intense, and last longer. To mitigate this growing risk to society, in addition to redoubling efforts and investments in adaptation to extreme weather events, intersectoral and increasingly international cooperation will be necessary. (AND ME)

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