June 28, 2005

Italian heatwave ‘puts one million people at risk’

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - A heat wave in Italy has put the health ofone million people at risk and the government has warned thesituation could be even worse than the summer of 2003 when20,000 people died due to soaring temperatures.

Authorities have asked local doctors to keep an eye ontheir patients above 75 years of age who are most vulnerable,hoping to avoid a repeat of the death-rate of two years agowhich has just been revised up from 8,000.

"We are faced with a heat wave that is equal if not worsethan in 2003 (and) around one million people are at risk,"Health Minister Francesco Storace told a news conference.

Italy is bathed in hot Saharan air with temperaturesforecast on Tuesday to reach 36 degrees Celsius (97Fahrenheit), with the hottest regions in the north. In citiesit can feel much hotter as asphalt roads and pavements pump theheat back up from below.

High temperatures put the vulnerable at risk of dehydrationand cardio-vascular problems which can kill. Older people areparticularly at risk and several people have already beenreported to have died because of the heat.

Northern Italy is also facing possible water shortages dueto lack of rainfall and evaporation has spiked. Farmers saythere is only enough water to guarantee irrigation for twoweeks.

A massive use of air conditioning caused electricityconsumption to hit near-record levels on Monday. Grid operatorGRTN said the country was not at danger of power shortages,despite low availability from hydro plants.

In June 2003 Italy suffered widespread blackouts aselectricty demand for air conditioners caused an overload.