20,000 deaths since 1999: New report reveals deadly impact of extreme weather in France

France is one of the most exposed countries in the world to the risks of extreme weather, a new report has found, with nearly 20,000 deaths linked to heatwaves, floods and storms in the last 20 years.

20,000 deaths since 1999: New report reveals deadly impact of extreme weather in France
All photos: AFP

The report from the global climate charity Germanwatch ranked 183 countries around the world according to how exposed they are to extreme weather events – such as heatwaves, storms and flooding – linked to climate change.

France was ranked in the top 20 most exposed countries in the world, in the same bracket as India and Madagascar.

Almost 20,000 people have died in France since 1999 because of extreme weather such as flooding, heatwaves and violent storms. France was ranked 8th in the world for the number of deaths caused by extreme weather events per 100,000 inhabitants.

Last weekend saw six people die in flash floods in south eastern France.

READ ALSO IN MAPS: The parts of France most at risk from flooding

In total the Germanwatch report estimates that 500,000 people have died around the globe as a result of 12,000 extreme weather events since 1999.

The worst affected countries in the world were Puerto Rico, Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti.

France was ranked highly due to a combination of several severe heatwaves that have proved deadly for many and major flooding along the Mediterranean coast that has claimed dozens of lives.

The worst of these was the heatwave of 2003 during which 15,000 people died – many of them elderly or isolated people in Paris. Further heatwaves killed 1,800 people in 2006 in 1,500 people in 2018.

The figures only go up to 2018 so do not include the summer of 2019, when towns all over France saw their highest ever recorded temperature – Paris broke all records with 42.6C – and 1,500 people died.

Although the temperatures in summer 2019 were hotter than the summer of 2003 the death toll was considerably lower, probably because local authorities were better prepared and put in extensive measures to protect the elderly and vulnerable.

On top of the heatwaves there have also been several major floods in France since 1999, the majority of them along the Mediterranean coast.

Flash flooding in Aude in 1999 caused 35 deaths, while coastal flooding in Gard in 2002 killed 27 people.

Hurricane Xynthia in 2010 left 53 people dead.

Each year flooding causes fatalities, particularly in the south of France.

Again this total does not take into account floods that hit south east France over the last fortnight, killing seven people including three rescue workers who died then their helicopter crashed.

“Over the past twenty years, France has experienced many storms and floods, but also very deadly heat waves because, like many European countries, it is not adapted to the occurrence of these exceptional heat waves,” says David Eckstein, one of the authors of the German study.

The NGO estimates that extreme heat periods in Europe are up to 100 times more likely than a century ago.

“That is why European countries must adapt by reviewing the materials used for construction and considering the design of buildings that are better protected from heat,” says David Esckstein.

Meteorologist Guillaume Séchet, author of the book Météo extrême, told French newspaper Le Parisien: “Because of global warming, it is estimated that by 2100, France will experience about 20% more Mediterranean episodes.”

As the summers continue to get more extreme, cities like Paris are looking at urban design that can reduce the 'heat sink' effect of cities, from planting more trees to using different building materials.

READ ALSO Scientists explain the 'heat sink' effect that makes Paris feel like an oven


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South west France on red alert for flooding

Five areas in south west France have been placed on a red weather alert for flooding as storms lash the region.

South west France on red alert for flooding
Storms are moving in to south west France over the Pyrenees. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Météo France has placed five départements in south west France – Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes, Hautes-Pyrénées, Haute-Garonne and Ariège – on a red weather alert for heavy rains and flooding.

Extremely heavy rainstorms have hit the area, with a band of storm clouds travelling along the Pyrenees, bringing the risk of avalanches in the mountains and flooding in lowland areas.

The neighbouring département of Pyrénées-Orientale is on orange alert, along with the principality of Andorra. In the north, Aisne is also on orange alert for heavy rain.

Heavy rain is expected to continue throughout Monday, gradually easing off towards the evening, although the flood alerts remain in place until Tuesday.