Lethal heatwave in Sahel worsened by fossil fuel burning

Lethal heatwave in Sahel worsened by fossil fuel burning

The deadly protracted heatwave that filled hospitals and mortuaries in the Sahel region of Africa earlier this month would have been impossible without human-caused climate disruption, a new analysis has revealed.

Mali registered the hottest day in its history on 3 April as temperatures hit 48.5˚C in the south-western city of Kayes. Intense heat continued across a wide area of the country for more than five days and nights, giving vulnerable people no time for recovery.

In the capital, Bamako, the Gabriel-Touré hospital reported 102 deaths over the first four days of April, almost as many as there had been over the entire month last year. More than half the dead were over the age of 60 and many of the deaths were related to heat, the hospital said.

Local news reports said mortuaries in Bamako were so full that many people had had to keep their dead relatives at home.

The health impacts may have been compounded by electricity shortages, which left many people without fans and air conditioning units. Regional media have reported that the national energy company, EDM, is struggling to pay a £410m fuel bill for its power plants.

The analysis, by World Weather Attribution, found that maximum temperatures in Burkina Faso and Mali had been made 1.5˚C hotter by climate breakdown, which is caused by the burning of gas, oil, coal and trees – particularly in the wealthy northern hemisphere. The same factors had pushed up nighttime temperatures by 2˚C, researchers said.

In the broader region, the study found the five-day heatwave would have been 1.5˚C cooler without human influence on the climate.

Other studies have underlined how the countries least responsible for the climate crisis are suffering many of the worst effects of it. In March, the southern coastal zone of western Africa experienced average heat index temperatures, which include humidity, of 50˚C, which is considered dangerous. In some areas, this rose as high as 60˚C, classified as “extreme danger”.

An analysis of this event by World Weather Attribution found that human-induced global heating had pushed up temperatures in the region on this occasion by 4˚C and made the combination of humidity and heat 10 times more likely.