Urban areas in Taiwan have recorded temperature highs of up to 37 degrees Celsius over the past six days, while the mercury in the Taipei Basin hit 38 degrees for three consecutive days last week.
At the same time, a number of deaths from heat stroke, heart failure and drowning have been reported, raising the alarm that the heat wave could turn into a disaster.
The most striking example of such a phenomenon is perhaps the case of France in 2003. In August that year, Paris recorded highs of 38 degrees for more than 10 days, resulting in deaths. That summer, the city recorded 14,000 more deaths than in the previous year, most of them among the elderly.
After paying such a hefty price, not only France, but other countries have begun to realize that the summer heat could result in disaster.
The measures these countries adopted included establishing temperature monitoring and an urgent notification system and evacuation of nursing homes residents to air conditioned facilities.
The current heat wave in Taiwan has less to do with the "extreme climate" pattern than with the “urban heat island effect," so that temperatures in urban areas are much higher than in neighboring rural areas.
The consistent heat wave should serve as a wake-up call for cities to take responsibility.
They should realize that years of low green cover ratio have hampered the ventilation systems of the cities, although this is exactly the problem that is most difficult to manage in urban development.
Through various incentives, Taipei added a lot of green areas in the run-up to the six-month Taipei International Flora Exposition that opened in November 2010, but these green areas have since disappeared mainly because land development is much more lucrative than green areas.
Taking a cue from other cities, Chicago offers low-interest loans to construct green buildings, and London provided subsidies to owners of vacant lands who could turn them into farmlands or gardens before the Olympics Games.
The Taiwan government should not be insensitive to the "heat island effect,” but rather should take action quickly. (Editorial abstract -- July 21, 2012)
(By Lilian Wu)