The world's unprecedented extreme temperatures in the last three decades, combined with rising levels of socio-economic vulnerability, are putting certain regions — such as Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Central America and countries in the Middle East — at greater risk, researchers say.

In the study, published April 26 in the journal Nature Communications, a research team led by the University of Bristol highlighted the areas most at risk of the devastating effects of high temperatures, which also included China and Central Europe on the hotspot list.

According to the study, if unprecedented heat waves occur in these densely populated areas, millions of people will be negatively affected.

Silent Killer

Study lead author Vicky Thompson, a researcher at the University of Bristol's School of Geographical Sciences, said extreme heat waves were often referred to as a silent killer whose impact was not immediately as obvious as after storms or floods.

Study highlights areas most at risk of devastating effects of high temperatures (Shutterstock)

Thompson adds in a statement to Al Jazeera Net, "Adaptation to extreme weather events often occurs in response to an event, where communities learn quickly after unexpectedly impactful events, and using maximum value statistics we review places where it is statistically likely to exceed regional temperature records, and therefore communities may be more vulnerable."

In 31 percent of the regions examined in the study, the observed maximum daily temperature record was exceptional, with climate models suggesting that in some regions, such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, the intensity of heat waves coincides with high population growth and limited healthcare and energy resources.

The researchers used maximum value statistics — a method for estimating periods of frequency of rare weather events — and large sets of data from climate models and observations to identify regions globally, where recorded temperatures are likely to be exceeded as soon as possible, and therefore communities are at greater risk of exposure to extreme temperatures, according to a press release published on the website (

All governments must prepare for heat waves to save thousands of lives at risk (Shutterstock)

Preparedness saves lives

Thompson noted that as temperatures rise and become more dangerous, rapid adaptation will be key to reducing the effects of heatwaves on communities.

"There are many relatively simple actions that will help, and with nearly 70 per cent of the world's population expected to live in cities by 2050, thinking about extreme temperatures within urban planning is essential."

She explained that adding more green spaces in cities will help reduce air temperatures and create shaded spaces, which reduces the need for mechanical cooling, and this will not only be useful in heat waves, but will also make cities more beautiful places to live in, as the benefits of adding green spaces are endless, as it has been shown to reduce air pollution and flood risk, improve mental health and create better social cohesion.

Governments around the world need to prepare for heat waves to save thousands of lives threatened by this phenomenon, as human-induced climate change increases the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, which are likely to lead to thousands of deaths globally.