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Scientists identify regions where heat waves may cause most damaging impact in coming years

With climate change making record-breaking heat waves more common across the globe, scientists have published a study identifying the areas of the world where heat waves are likely to cause the greatest impact.

Their research, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, found that parts of Russia, Central America, central Europe, China and Australia are among the most at risk. They also identified Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and northwestern Argentina as being susceptible. 

Not all of these regions will necessarily be the hottest, the study said, but some will suffer from a lack of preparation because they are not used to sustained periods of high heat. Countries not familiar with heat waves don't all have the infrastructure in place to handle extreme temperatures. Lead author Dr. Vikki Thompson called for better preparation as heat waves became more common. 

"We identify regions that may have been lucky so far – some of these regions have rapidly growing populations, some are developing nations, some are already very hot," Thompson said in a press release. "We need to ask if the heat action plans for these areas are sufficient."

Researchers, who looked at more than 60 years of temperature data, said areas without a history of extreme heat are most at risk. 

"These regions have had no need to adapt to such events and so may be more susceptible to the impacts of extreme heat," the study authors wrote. "Statistically, these regions are also more likely to experience record-breaking extremes than other areas."

The study's authors initially looked at 237 regions, but some were excluded from the final report because of political boundaries. Other regions where forecast products were not consistent were also left out, leaving scientists with 136 regions. 

They found "statistically implausible extremes" happened in nearly a third of the regions from 1959 to 2021, "with no apparent spatial or temporal pattern."

"It appears that such extremes could occur anywhere and at any time," researchers said. 

Late last year, the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, warned that over two billion children around the world would face frequent heat waves by 2050.

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