Futuribles Journal n° 291

Institutions - Population

Édifiante canicule


In this article Alain Parant discusses the consequences of the heatwave in France during last summer and the way that the country in general reacted to it.
First he argues that this episode is, yet again, a striking example of the failure of the French public authorities to foresee problems and their inability to learn from the past; he then analyses - somewhat more cautiously than other commentators so far - the unusually high death rate observed during the period and the factors and consequences that can be linked to it. In particular, Alain Parant reassesses the role likely to be played in future by informal support systems (especially by families) for the frail elderly: in his view, as family units become more complex and more women work outside the home these factors could well weaken these support networks even further and give rise to "long-term scenarios that are even worse than those rather wishfully foreseen so far".
With regard more specifically to the heatwave, Parant notes problems arising because responsibilities have been diluted between different levels of decisionmaking coupled with slow reactions to the crisis, but he also stresses the collective responsibility of the French population. Statistics aside (the share of the excess deaths in 2003 that can genuinely be attributed to the heatwave cannot be calculated reliably until next year), he argues that the solutions often suggested as a means of preventing a recurrence are frequently too short term; we need instead to take a more thorough look at the interactions between our activities (air conditioning/energy requirements, energy/pollution, pollution/heatwaves). For this reason he exhorts us not to treat this episode as just a blip, but calls for a general debate about the major trends in population and public health that are involved, and their wider impact on French society.

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