Facing the silent killer: Preparation is key to reduce preventable deaths as Europe braces for heatwaves

Volunteers from the Hellenic Red Cross help carry water to people visiting the Acropolis in Athens

Volunteers from the Hellenic Red Cross help carry water to people visiting the Acropolis in Athens

Photo: Hellenic Red Cross


Amid soaring temperatures across Europe, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) urges cities and communities to prepare for extreme heat and prioritize people’s health.   

Many countries across southern Europe are feeling the heat, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in Greece, Italy and Türkiye. This summer’s heatwaves have already claimed lives, with several people dying or going missing in the past two weeks. 

“Each year we are reminded that heat is a silent killer. Summer has just started but we’ve already seen many deaths that could have been prevented. We need to work together to adapt, better anticipate, warn and protect vulnerable groups before and during heatwaves,” said Birgitte Ebbesen, Regional Director IFRC Europe.  

According to EU data, heat-related mortality has increased by around 30 per cent in the past 20 years and heat-related deaths are estimated to have increased by 94 per cent in parts of Europe. The people most at risk of heat waves include older people, children, pregnant women, and those with pre-existing health conditions.  

Staff and volunteers from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across the region are supporting communities in preparing for and responding to heatwaves.  

The Hellenic Red Cross, for example, has initiated its Early Action Protocol for Extreme Heat, which aims to assist 2,000 vulnerable individuals through anticipatory measures, including for the homeless and elderly. This includes distributing water, isotonic drinks, food, and sunscreen, and conducting wellness checks via bike-based first aid teams. 

“Extreme heat poses severe challenges in Greece with impacts on public health. This year, meteorologists are forecasting the hottest summer in recent years and the Hellenic Red Cross is preparing with many humanitarian initiatives to inform and support vulnerable populations all over Greece,” says Evgenia Gkogkou, Hellenic Red Cross programme manager.  

Temperatures in Europe and Central Asia have increased at more than twice the global average over the past 30 years – the highest of any continent in the world. With heatwaves becoming more likely as the climate crisis worsens, more preparedness and early warning systems are required to reduce and manage the risks. 

“Early-season heatwaves tend to be deadlier as people have not yet prepared their homes or acclimated to summer temperatures. When cities have Heat Action Plans in place to support communities before, during and after the heat, we can reduce preventable deaths.” says Roop Singh, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre’s lead on extreme heat. 

For more information and to arrange an interview: [email protected] 

In Budapest:  Nora Peter, +36 70 953 7709 
In Geneva: Tommaso Della Longa +41 797084367 / Andrew Thomas +41 763676587

About the IFRC        

IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network, comprising 191 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working to save lives and promote dignity around the world.