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Over 1,700 died in Spain, Portugal due to heatwave: WHO

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Firefighters work against a wildfire near Landiras, southwestern France, July 16, 2022. (Photo by AP)

A ferocious heatwave that brought record temperatures to parts of Europe has resulted in the deaths of over 1,700 people on the Iberian peninsula alone, according to the World Health Organization's European office.

"Heat kills. Over the past decades, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of extreme heat during extended heatwaves, often with simultaneous wildfires," WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement on Friday.

"This year, we have already witnessed more than 1,700 needless deaths in the present heatwave in Spain and Portugal alone," Kluge added.

The regional director also said that exposure to extreme heat "often exacerbates pre-existing health conditions," warning that "individuals at either end of life's spectrum - infants and children, and older people - are at particular risk".

Responding to a query by AFP, WHO Europe also explained that according to the forecasts, the heatwave may intensify in the coming days and the number of deaths will increase due to the unprecedented increase in the temperature.

"Ultimately, this week's events point yet again to the desperate need for pan-European action to effectively tackle climate change," Kluge said.

The regional head of the UN health body also called on world countries and governments to cooperate closely with each other in order to implement the Paris Agreement and try to reduce the temperature of the earth.

He further noted that members of the WHO's European region -- 53 countries and regions including several in Central Asia -- have already shown that they can have effective cooperation with each other in this direction.

The heatwave, which could last for several weeks, has been accompanied by massive fires in France, Spain and Portugal, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

The Carlos III Health Institute in Spain reported that at least 678 heat-related deaths occurred in the country between July 10 and 17.

Portugal's director general of health also told Reuters on Tuesday that there were 1,063 heat-related deaths in the country between July 7 and 18.

Climate scientists say the next decade will be defined by greater weather extremes but the fear is it will also be shaped by humanity’s collective failure to do more.

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