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Climate Change and Extreme Temperatures in Latin American Cities

arial view of a Latin American city

September 7, 2022

A recent study on extreme temperatures and mortality led by researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health received attention from news outlets across Latin America and worldwide.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, highlights the effects of extreme temperatures on mortality for urban populations in Latin America. Researchers from the Salud Urbana en América Latina (SALURBAL) Project analyzed the relationship between hot and cold days and mortality in 326 cities across nine countries in Latin America, and found that nearly 6% of all deaths during the study period can be linked to temperature extremes. On very hot days, a one-degree Celsius increase in temperature will mean a 5.7% increase in deaths, while over 10% of deaths from respiratory infections can be attributed to extreme cold.

The article was selected by Nature for their June 2020 “Research Highlight” and “Research Briefing,” and was featured on the BBC News World ServiceScience in Action” radio broadcast and by the Spanish news outlet El País. Major sites across South America also covered the findings, including El Espectador in Colombia, CNN Brazil, and La Insuperable in Argentina.

This coverage reflects a growing recognition of the impacts of climate change across the globe and the urgent need to develop effective responses – in particular in urban areas where vulnerable populations are concentrated.

“Our findings underscore the need for cities to prepare now for the increasingly frequent and severe extreme temperatures we expect to see over the coming decades. We must act to identify vulnerable populations, adapt critical infrastructure, and improve emergency response measures that will save lives as the climate changes,” says Josiah Kephart, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at Dornsife and lead author of the study.

“Latin America has a very large urban population at risk of heat exposure, yet until now, few studies have documented the linkages between extreme temperatures and health in cities across the region. Greater exposure to heat is only one of the many adverse impacts of climate change on health. Our findings add to the evidence showing that urgent action to address climate change is needed,” says Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH, Dana and David Dornsife Dean and Distinguished University Professor of Epidemiology at the Dornsife School of Public Health and Director of the Urban Health Collaborative.

Read the full text of the study here.