Session on extreme weather events and human health

Speech Published 25 Jun 2004 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Intervention at World Health Organization Fourth European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Healthon Environment and Health

Budapest, 25 June 2004

Session on extreme weather events and human health

Intervention by Professor Jacqueline McGlade
Executive Director, European Environment Agency

World Health Organisation Fourth European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health

Budapest, 25 June 2004

The European Environment Agency is deeply involved in documenting and assessing natural and human induced changes to Europe's environment. With respect to this session on extreme events, we have been monitoring the impacts of climate change, noting that all aspects of the environment are affected - from the length of the growing season to the thickness of our glaciers - and will be publishing a comprehensive analysis in the second half of July this year.

But perhaps more important is what happens during extreme events and how the Agency is responding.

First, during the outbreak of fires in Italy and Portugal over recent summers, we placed satellite images of the distribution of fires on our web site: we noticed a significant increase in web traffic and were informed after the event that the public had been unable to obtain local information of where fires were spreading and were therefore using the EEA site instead. This is a strong reminder to all of us that during such extreme events it is often very difficult for local emergency services to remain in contact throughout the event with all elements of the public, and that in turn all sources of updated localised information are likely to come under intense use.

Second, it is clear that modelling of extreme events to support decision-making needs much more careful and immediate attention. At the Agency we are building a geo-referenced public information service on the environment - called In Your Backyard -- which is a key element in the Environment and Health Information System for Europe. To properly anticipate the effect of extreme events on local scales we are developing adaptation and mitigation scenarios for a range of climate change impact scenarios for Europe. These analyses are to help emphasise the fact amongst stakeholders that what is currently understood as a one in 100-year flooding event today in, say, eastern England will not only become a one in 10-year event by 2080 but will also increase in intensity and size.

Such scenarios are important not only for addressing the response reactions for protection agencies and emergency services but also for describing the need to situate hospitals, landfill sites and chemical installations with greater care. Across Europe it is still the case that many of our hospitals, retirement homes and schools are situated in today's flood plain. The situation can only worsen.

Extreme events continue to take us by surprise. Yesterday a freak tornado hit Germany, sucked up several houses and resulted in death and injury. We may not wish to emphasise a "Day After Tomorrow" vision for Europe but it is essential that extreme event modelling is properly integrated into the decision - making and monitoring of Europe's environment to avoid or at least lessen the impacts of heat-waves, water shortages and flooding over the coming decades. At the European Environment Agency we will be working with the newly established network of European environmental protection agencies and our members states to make this possible.


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