Spain's extreme heat gets govt's attention
Spain has been so ravaged by extreme heat recently that the government is planning to set up a ministry tasked with solving hot-weather problems. The Observatory for Health and Climate Change would study the impacts of hot weather on people's health and upon the nation and its proposed founding will be discussed in detail at a Cabinet meeting next month, The Independent newspaper has reported. If backed by Spain's Cabinet, the new department could be in place soon after the general election set for July 23. The idea was announced as Spain boiled amid its first official heat wave of the year, with temperatures set to hit 44 C this week. The nation's weather agency, known as AEMET, noted that heat waves have become much more common in the southern European country during the past 12 years. Teresa Ribera, Spain's ecological transition minister, told the Associated Press news agency the extreme heat the country is now seeing more frequently is putting older people and those with underlying health conditions especially at risk. "We must investigate what happens to our bodies in response to the effects of climate change, in order to mitigate the consequences on our health," Ribera said. Spain has seen a series of hot, dry spells in recent years that have dried up reservoirs and rivers and led to water shortages. Last year was officially declared the country's hottest on record. As a result, Spain has banned outdoor work during official heat waves and set maximum and minimum indoor temperatures for people's work spaces. Jonas Bull, assistant disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Independent he would like to see Spain do more to protect vulnerable people from the effects of extremely hot weather. "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," he said. Spain's prolonged drought and record-high temperatures have also left the Mediterranean nation increasingly vulnerable to wildfires and the country had more land impacted by fires and heavier losses during 2022 than any other European Union country, with four lives lost and more than 300,000 hectares burned. So far this year, an additional 66,000 hectares of land, mainly forests, have been consumed by fire. Additionally, reservoirs in parts of Spain are only around one-third full, meaning water restrictions are in place for millions of households even though the hottest months are yet to come. Experts have blamed much of the extreme heat on global climate change and called for more work to be done on transitioning the nation's power generation and transportation to sustainable green technologies.