MADRID — Spain sweltered in its first official heat wave of the year on Monday as the government announced a new department to investigate and alleviate the effects of extreme temperatures on human health.
The state weather agency, AEMET, said temperatures were predicted to hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in the country’s south during the hot spell, expected to last until Thursday, and noted that heat waves have become more common during the month of June over the last 12 years.
Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera said the country’s rising temperatures put vulnerable populations at risk, and more work is needed to understand how to prepare for longer, hotter summers. Ribera stated that we must study what our bodies do in response to climate change in order to minimize the impact on our health.
The proposal to create the new department, called the Observatory for Health and Climate Change, will be presented to Spain’s Cabinet next month ahead of a snap general election on July 23.
Spain has already banned outdoor work during periods of extreme heat after the death of a municipal worker in Madrid last summer, and set legal maximum and minimum temperatures for workplaces.
The city of Barcelona also operates a network of more than 200 climate shelters to shield people from the heat.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch warned that the country was not doing enough to protect people with disabilities from extreme temperatures.
“People with disabilities are at high risk of harm from exposure to extreme heat, including risk of death and physical, social, and mental health distress, especially when they are left to cope with dangerous temperatures on their own,” said Jonas Bull, assistant disability rights researcher at the organization.
Spanish researchers at the Carlos III Health Institute recently published a paper showing that urban environments without tree cover or adapted building materials can experience temperatures up to 11 C (20 F) higher than the nearby countryside. This phenomenon is known as “heat island” and affects Spanish cities with dense populations such as Valencia Madrid Barcelona.
Last summer was the hottest in Spain, while spring 2023 also set records. Copernicus Emergency Management Service of the European Union said that the Iberian Peninsula was the driest region in Europe due to a long-lasting drought which has now extended into the summer.
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