In France, it is known as the canicule. In English, it’s simply called a heatwave. And while speakers of both languages can probably agree that oppressively hot weather typically renders people sluggish and listless, the trauma of France’s last major canicule in 2003 has put the country’s authorities in overdrive.
French weather services have forecasted temperatures in the mid to high 30s Celsius (high 80s to low 90s Farenheit) in the coming days, which, after a summer of mediocre weather, has come to some as a welcome reprieve. But while some Parisians plan evening picnics on the edge of the Seine and others eagerly look forward to a weekend on the beach, the ministry of health has been busy taking precautions against the sweltering heat.
The country’s main weather service, Météo France, has put 33 regional departments on “orange alert”, the second highest warning level, with temperatures expected to spike as high as 43 C (109 F) in parts of southern France on Saturday. The ministry of health has also urged the public to stay on guard against possible health risks, putting a special emphasis on the country’s more vulnerable populations, especially the elderly.
The government’s vigilance, however, is not without good reason. The country’s last canicule, in summer 2003, remains a searing memory for many. Record highs were broken in cities across the country, and the relentless heat dragged on for over a week.
It was the hottest summer France had seen in 150 years and one of the deadliest. According to a 2004 Senate report, the heatwave claimed 14,802 lives in France during the first three weeks of August, the vast majority of which were people over the age of 75. The report stated that, “although our country excels in healthcare, the lag in prevention is now obvious.”
Even though forecasts for the coming days don’t necessarily compare with that of 2003, France’s government is not taking any risks. As to be expected, health officials have recommended regularly drinking water to avoid dehydration or overheating, but have also advised those over the age of 65 to give periodic updates to family and loved ones and to request help if needed.
“The ministry of health reminds everyone of the importance of providing support to vulnerable people in order to prevent any health issues during this intense heatwave”, the ministry said in a statement published on Thursday.