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United Nations University: UN students query Bonners about heat stress

United Nations University : UN students query Bonners about heat stress

Students from the United Nations University in Bonn are investigating the impact of the increasing number of heat waves on the urban population. They will continue to be more frequent due to climate change.

Lydia Möbus does not mind the increasing heat when temperatures rise in the old town. The 49-year-old sells car number plates on Breite Straße and is happy about the summer weather. “It’s great when it’s warmer,” she says. However, it quickly gets much too hot for her parents. “They are approaching 80 and don’t go out at all. I can imagine that lots of people have a problem with the heat.”

Lydia Möbus is among the first respondents to be interviewed by the 15 students from the United Nations University (UNU) in Bonn. The UN Think Tank is primarily concerned with research questions that affect many countries. There are institutes around the world each dedicated to different topics. Here in Bonn, the researchers work at the Institute for Environment and Human Security.

800 Bonners will be surveyed

Simone Sandholz researches the issue of heat in cities and says: “When it comes to natural hazards, we often think of houses that are damaged by floods and storms. The issue of heat, however, is often overlooked.” Heat waves often occur much more slowly than other natural disasters. Figures from the Federal Environment Ministry show, for example, that the record summer of 2003 cost around 7000 people in Europe their lives. There were also numerous cases of illness through dehydration, heat stroke and heart and circulatory diseases.

“Although Germany has a relatively cool climate, the burden of heat waves is increasing. This primarily affects urban populations,” explains Sandholz. The expert assumes that there will be more heat waves in the future because of climate change and that they will last longer. In typical holiday destinations such as Italy and Spain, people could be more relaxed about the heat than in Germany. “There’s a reason the siesta has caught on there.” But on average, the Germans are significantly older than those from southern countries. “And we’re all getting much older,” says Sandholz.

For this reason, Bonners should rethink their behaviour and administrations should respond to citizens’ needs. To this end, the researchers want to develop larger scale strategies. “Senior citizens in particular feel every degree and are more susceptible if the heat lasts longer,” Sandholz knows. Most voluntarily restricted their range of motion. “If I am 80 years old and live alone, I will wonder who can go shopping for me.” This is why the researchers also looked at neighbourhood cohesion. Small children, pregnant women, overweight people, those with chronic illnesses and alcoholics also belong to the risk groups. The Federal Environment Agency has issued these with advice on handling heat.

While the project partners in the interdisciplinary research team carry out analyses and forecasts about heat exposure themselves, the experts at the UNU are asking the population. A total of 800 Bonn residents in the old town and Bad Godesberg are to take part in the survey. The researchers are investigating whether the residents notice the heat in the city and what measures they take when it gets too hot for them. They are also recording personal details and the current housing conditions.

As guidelines are currently being developed in city districts, Simone Sandholz knows there is an opportunity to promptly inform the administration and citizens of the results. “As the old town is very densely built up, this part of the city heats up more quickly than others.” Cities had to find ways to adapt and protect their residents. For example, sufficient green spaces also played a role.

(Original text: Dagny Siebke / Translation: kc)