Cold Weather Crisis: The Silent Threat Taking Lives Globally

While much attention is given to the rising global temperatures, there is another silent threat that claims lives around the world: the cold weather crisis. Surprisingly, cold weather takes a greater toll on human lives than hot weather.[1]

Cold-Related Deaths Surpass Heat-Related Deaths

According to a study published in The Lancet, between 2000 and 2019, cold-related deaths numbered 4,594,098 globally, while heat-related deaths were 489,075. These figures challenge common assumptions as many might expect hot weather to pose a greater threat.[2]

Cold-related deaths disproportionately affect poorer and underdeveloped areas, but even affluent countries are not immune. In the United States, from 1979 to 2016,[3] an estimated 19,000 people died from cold-related causes, compared to 11,000 from heat-related causes.[4]

Surprising Regional Distribution

The regional distribution of cold-related deaths may surprise many. The aforementioned study highlights that both Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa experienced cold-related deaths at twice the global average. Sub-Saharan Africa, often associated with a hot tropical climate, owes its high numbers to its mountainous regions. Elevation plays a significant role in the prevalence of cold-related deaths in Africa, where mountainous areas in the northeast, with elevations exceeding 10,000 feet, witness an alarming concentration of fatalities. As atmospheric temperature drops by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000-foot rise in elevation, even regions known for their warmth can become deadly in cold weather. [5]

Tropical or subtropical climates, such as the highlands of Ethiopia or the Andes of Peru, have their share of cold-related deaths. This paradox can be explained by the thinner atmosphere at higher elevations, which rapidly dissipates heat compared to the denser air below. Consequently, nights in these mountainous regions become unbearably cold. Cold-related maladies occur not only due to inadequate heat in homes, but also when people venture outside.[6]

The Risk Outdoors

While homes in poorer areas often lack proper insulation, increasing the risk of cold-related ailments, the greater danger lies outside. Evidence suggests that most cold-related deaths occur outdoors. Even those who live in remote, rural areas, aware of the harsh conditions, equip their homes as best they can. For instance, households in rural Canada rely on wood for warmth, while in Ireland, traditional turf from local peat bogs is still in use. Mongolia relies on dung from livestock as a preferred heating fuel. However, these sources are of little help to those stranded outside in the cold.[7] A study conducted in New York City found that 75 percent of the people who died from the cold between 2005 and 2014 were exposed outdoors. Homelessness, though a significant factor, did not account for the majority of cases. Instead, many individuals simply stayed out in the cold for longer than was safe.[8]

Efforts to Address the Crisis

To combat the silent crisis of cold-related deaths, communities, governments, and organizations must take immediate action. It is crucial to improve insulation in homes, particularly in poorer areas, to provide effective warmth during cold weather. Raising awareness about the risks of venturing outside in extreme cold and educating individuals about appropriate precautions are essential steps to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Additionally, raising awareness about the risks of venturing outside in extreme cold and educating individuals about appropriate precautions are essential. Collaborative efforts should be made to provide shelter and support to vulnerable populations, including the homeless, who are particularly susceptible to the harsh effects of cold weather.

Cold weather, often overlooked in comparison to its hot counterpart, poses a silent crisis that claims numerous lives worldwide. The surprising prevalence of cold-related deaths in both tropical and non-tropical regions calls for immediate attention. Addressing the lack of effective insulation in homes, raising awareness about the risks faced when venturing outside, and providing support to vulnerable populations are crucial steps.

By acknowledging and acting upon this overlooked crisis, we can strive to create a safer and more secure world for all. Join us in making a lasting impact this winter by donating toward winter clothing packets. As villagers are forced indoors and pastors face limitations in their ministry, the gift of warm clothing becomes invaluable. Your support ensures that GFA missionaries stay healthy and capable of ministering during the cold season. Moreover, providing warm clothes and winter clothing to the poor protects the vulnerable from the freezing cold. Stand with us and provide the warmth and love that transforms lives.

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[1] Zhao, Qi, et al. “Global, regional, and national burden of mortality associated with non-optimal ambient temperatures from 20000 to 2019: a three-stage modelling study.”July 2021. The Lancet.
[2] Zhao, Qi, et al. “Global, regional, and national burden of mortality associated with non-optimal ambient temperatures from 20000 to 2019: a three-stage modeling study.”July 2021. The Lancet.
[3] “Climate Change Indicators: Cold-Related Deaths.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed July 15, 2022.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Lutgens, Frederick K., Tarbuck, Edward J. The Atmosphere. 2004, Pearson Education, Inc. 2013.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Lane, Kathryn, et al. “Burden and Risk Factors for Cold-Related Illness and Death in New York City.” NIH National Library of Medicine. April 2018.