According to the world's largest database of natural disasters, Africa has had two heat waves in the past century. In reality, they increase faster than here. The consequences are largely unknown, let alone that heat plans exist.

Siberia has an exceptional heat wave this year, and last year European and Australian heat made headlines. The consequences are also discussed: forest fires, melting permafrost and risks for people and animals, including koalas.

What we hear very little about are heat waves in Africa, say two climate researchers at the University of Oxford in Nature Climate Change . The world's largest database of natural disasters since 1900 cites only two heat waves in Africa, with 71 deaths. Over the same period, 83 heat waves are stored in Europe for a total of 140,000 heat deaths.

It escapes the view of the world that heat waves do occur in Africa, that they also increase significantly, even faster than in moderate parts - and that they affect many people.

Africa is less accustomed to temperature differences

Climatologist Friederike Otto is director of the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford, and author of the study. NU.nl asked her why African heat waves remain under the radar. Nowadays, satellites and accurate weather models provide a global picture?

"It is not so much about these heat waves being in the news, but about the effects becoming known, so that national weather services and disaster relief can work together more specifically." Friederike Otto, Climatologist

"Meteorologically speaking, we could infer heat waves in Africa from the weather models. But that doesn't tell us anything about the consequences - and what aspect of the heat is affecting people."

Because the natural temperature differences in the tropics are much smaller than ours, societies are also less well-equipped. According to Otto, the effect of global warming on heat waves can therefore be measured more quickly than in temperate regions, with probably also greater consequences.

Heat and high humidity are dangerous

An additional problem is that heat waves in Africa can also last longer due to the smaller natural variation. She cites as an example a heat wave in much of southern Africa in 1992 that lasted four months. "It is not so much about these heat waves being in the news, but about the effects becoming known, so that national weather services and disaster relief can work together more specifically."

Many European countries and cities have drawn up heat plans since the deadly heat wave of 2003 to prevent victims. That year, 70,000 people died in Western Europe as a direct result of the heat. There are no such heat plans in Africa.

Two months ago, American researchers reported that a deadly combination of heat with extremely high humidity has doubled in the past 38 years. Coastal cities in tropical and subtropical regions in Africa, Asia and Australia appear to be most affected. Currently, large areas of the tropics and subtropics are affected by a locust plague resulting from extreme rainfall in Oman and East Africa in 2018 and 2019.

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See also: Deadly combination of humidity and heat is increasing worldwide