A partially dried pond near Aire-sur-Adour in southwestern France on August 9, 2022 (AFP / GAIZKA IROZ)
Excess mortality estimated at over 10,000 deaths. This is the balance sheet of the summer in France, with two major culprits: a persistent Covid epidemic and, above all, repeated heat waves that bear witness to the deadly effects of global warming.
During the second hottest summer since 1900, there were an excess of 10,420 deaths between June 1 and September 15, according to an estimate provided Monday evening by the French public health agency (SpF) in a report ‘Heat wave and health”.
Part of the excess deaths is concentrated in the three heat wave episodes: 2,816 recorded in these periods alone.
What does excess mortality mean? It is the number of deaths observed compared to that expected, established by comparing it with the previous five summers/periods, and corrected for demographic ageing.
The excess death toll during heatwaves in 2022 is “the highest since 2003,” a memorable year for its three-week heatwave that claimed 15,000 lives, SpF stressed. As a result, a national heatwave plan was created.
Part of the excess mortality for all of summer 2022 (June 1 to September 15) is also “likely due to exposure to intense heat” below “heatwave alert thresholds”. We will have to wait until the beginning of 2023 to have a precise estimate of their specific role.
– Three heat waves –
If this summer has been particularly hot and dry, it has also been marked by a surge in Covid.
Hard to separate the two. “There is a complex interaction”, summarized during a press conference Guillaume Boulanger, head of the “Quality of living and working environments and population health” unit of the SpF. “Covid-19 may have increased vulnerability to heat for some people,” and vice versa.
Other elements, such as road accidents or drownings, may have had a “but marginal” influence on the excess mortality.
During a summer with multiple manifestations of global warming, France experienced three “intense and remarkable” heat waves in particular: one in June, with unprecedented earliness, one in July, the longest and affecting the two thirds of the French, one last in August .
People aged 75 and over were the hardest hit by excess mortality during these periods: one in six excess mortality was in this age group (2,272 excess mortality, +20.2%).
Geographically, the effects were also uneven. Four regions, mainly in the south of France (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, New Aquitaine, Occitania, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) accumulated nearly two-thirds of the national excess deaths during heatwaves.
But three other regions showed the highest excess mortality rates: Brittany, less acclimatised to heatwaves because it was little affected so far this year, Île-de-France, densely populated and urbanised, and Grand- East. .
– The human body tested –
In addition, seven “possible heat” fatal occupational accidents were notified. Occurring primarily during outdoor activity, including three in the construction industry, they involved men aged 39 to 54 years.
This assessment confirms that heatwaves, the accumulation of which is an effect of global warming, are deadly and that the phenomenon is accelerating.
Over the past eight summers, heatwaves have caused “more than 10,500 excess deaths” in France, noted Public Health France.
But even outside of heat wave periods, high temperatures put a strain on the human body, especially for populations at risk: children, the elderly, workers, sportsmen, etc.
From the beginning of June to mid-September, more than 17,000 emergency room visits and 3,500 SOS Médecins consultations were thus recorded in mainland France.
The strong heatwaves hit all of Europe this summer, both countries that are familiar with these phenomena, such as Spain, and others, affected for the first time, such as the United Kingdom.
An initial estimate published on 7 November by WHO Europe on the occasion of COP27, reported at least 15,000 deaths in Europe linked to heat waves in a summer also marked by drought and fires. “Climate change is already killing us, but strong action today can prevent more deaths,” the institution said.
Europe is the fastest-warming continent, with temperatures rising more than double the global average over the past 30 years, according to the UN.