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Health Russia

Vulnerabilities Russia

The fires of 2010

In 2010, western Russia experienced an intense heat wave from early July through to the first half of August, having already been subject to significantly above average temperature in the previous 2 months. In Moscow, temperatures were 7.6°C above average for July, making it the hottest July on record by 2°C. On 29th July, Moscow recorded its hottest ever temperature of 38.2°C, the highest since the records began 130 years ago. There were also 33 consecutive days above 30°C in the city (7).

According to experts the normal west-to-east movement of weather systems was blocked, a naturally occurring weather phenomenon common to Eurasia, and this led to the persistently quiescent weather in the summer of 2010. According to experts it is not known whether, or to what extent, climate change affects the frequency or intensity of blocking during summer. It has been stated, however, that the 2010 situation, where blocking has existed over western Russia on virtually every day from the beginning of July until the middle of August, is highly unusual (6).

Official and unofficial statistics on the impact of the 2010 fires differ strongly. According to official statistics 65 people died and 1,068 suffered injuries due to effects of the fires. The unofficial numbers are much higher. For example, in Moscow alone the daily mortality rate jumped from 360-380 people in July 2009 to 700 people in July 2010 (5,840 total monthly increase) (6). Around 14,000 deaths resulted from the summer heat, with half of them in and around Moscow alone (8).

The numbers in provincial Russia may be higher than in Moscow because Moscow, unlike many small towns and villages, was spared of the direct effect of the fires. Besides, damage to the affected population’s health did not end when the fires abated; for many smoke inhalation and excessive heat will have a long-term health effect (6).

Other estimates for Russia are a death toll of 55,000, an annual crop failure of ~25%, more than 1 million ha of burned areas, and ~US$15 billion (~1% gross domestic product) of total economic loss (19).

Mosquito-borne diseases

In 21st century, mosquitos are expected to pose an increasing public health threat. As may as 250,000 Russians suffer from latent, local forms of malaria. West Nile and Denge Fever are reported to be spreading across the country as well (1).

Over the last 15 – 20 years the structure of importing malaria to Russia has substantially changed. Until 1995 malaria was mainly imported from faraway countries; however, in 1996 the number of malaria cases brought from the faraway and neighbouring countries became more or less the same. In the consequent years malaria was mainly imported from the neighbouring countries, particularly from Tajikistan and Azerbaijan. From 1987 – 1992 to 1997 – 2001 in Saint – Petersburg the number of imported malaria cases has increased almost threefold (3).

Climate change impact on the frequency of malaria cases has already become obvious for some regions. Thus, in Moscow region the malaria epidemiological situation has already been transformed. Due to several epidemiological seasons with abnormally early high daily average temperatures the number of malaria cases has rapidly increased (2).

Tick-borne diseases

Ticks are another disease vector that will grow worse by 2030. Tick encephalitis, Lyme disease, and tick rickettsiosis (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) are three of the diseases that are spreading increasingly aggressively across Russia (1).

The number of people bitten by ticks in summer 2007 has become the largest on record until that year. More than 300 thousand people, including 73 thousand children, resorted to the hospitals. By the end of August, 2367 patients were diagnosed as having got tick encephalitis; this number is almost 2 times as much as compared to the last year. 35 patients died (2).

Sand-fly-borne diseases

Leishmaniasis is a protozoan parasitic infection caused by Leishmania infantum that is transmitted to human beings through the bite of an infected female sandfly. Sandfly distribution in Europe is south of latitude 45⁰N and less than 800 m above sea level, although it has recently expanded as high as 49⁰N. Currently, sandfly vectors have a substantially wider range than that of L infantum, and imported cases of infected dogs are common in central and northern Europe. Once conditions make transmission suitable in northern latitudes, these imported cases could act as plentiful source of infections, permitting the development of new endemic foci. Conversely, if climatic conditions become too hot and dry for vector survival, the disease may disappear in southern latitudes. Thus, complex climatic and environmental changes (such as land use) will continue to shift the dispersal of leishmaniasis in Europe (4).


Floods are the most common natural disaster in Europe. The adverse human health consequences of flooding are complex and far-reaching: these include drowning, injuries, and an increased incidence of common mental disorders. Anxiety and depression may last for months and possibly even years after the flood event and so the true health burden is rarely appreciated (5).

Effects of floods on communicable diseases appear relatively infrequent in Europe. The vulnerability of a person or group is defined in terms of their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural hazard. Determining vulnerability is a major challenge. Vulnerable groups within communities to the health impacts of flooding are the elderly, disabled, children, women, ethnic minorities, and those on low incomes (5).

Adaptation strategies - General - Heatwaves

The outcomes from the two European heat waves of 2003 and 2006 have been summarized by the IPCC (9) and are summarized below. They include public health approaches to reducing exposure, assessing heat mortality, communication and education, and adapting the urban infrastructure.

1. Public health approaches to reducing exposure

A common public health approach to reducing exposure is the Heat Warning System (HWS) or Heat Action Response System. The four components of the latter include an alert protocol, community response plan, communication plan, and evaluation plan (10). The HWS is represented by the multiple dimensions of the EuroHeat plan, such as a lead agency to coordinate the alert, an alert system, an information outreach plan, long-term infrastructural planning, and preparedness actions for the health care system (11).

The European Network of Meteorological Services has created Meteoalarm as a way to coordinate warnings and to differentiate them across regions (12). There are a range of approaches used to trigger alerts and a range of response measures implemented once an alert has been triggered. In some cases, departments of emergency management lead the endeavor, while in others public health-related agencies are most responsible (13).

2. Assessing heat mortality

Assessing excess mortality is the most widely used means of assessing the health impact of heat-related extreme events.

3. Communication and education

One particularly difficult aspect of heat preparedness is communicating risk. In many locations populations are unaware of their risk and heat wave warning systems go largely unheeded (14). Some evidence has even shown that top-down educational messages do not result in appropriate resultant actions (15).

More generally, research shows that communication about heat preparedness centered on engaging with communities results in increased awareness compared with top-down messages (16).

4. Adapting the urban infrastructure

Several types of infrastructural measures can be taken to prevent negative outcomes of heat-related extreme events. Models suggest that significant reductions in heat-related illness would result from land use modifications that increase albedo, proportion of vegetative cover, thermal conductivity, and emissivity in urban areas (17). Reducing energy consumption in buildings can improve resilience, since localized systems are less dependent on vulnerable energy infrastructure. In addition, by better insulating residential dwellings, people would suffer less effect from heat hazards. Financial incentives have been tested in some countries as a means to increase energy efficiency by supporting those who are insulating their homes. Urban greening can also reduce temperatures, protecting local populations and reducing energy demands (18).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Russia.

  1. Perelet et al. (2007/2008), in: US National Intelligence Council (2009)
  2. WWF Russia and OXFAM (2008)
  3. Antonov (2004), in:WWF Russia and OXFAM (2008)
  4. Semenza and Menne (2009)
  5. Hajat et al. (2003)
  6. Sidortsov (2011)
  7. WMO (2011), in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  8. Maier et al. (2011), in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  9. IPCC (2012)
  10. Health Canada (2010), in: IPCC (2012)
  11. WHO (2007), in: IPCC (2012)
  12. Bartzokas et al. (2010), in: IPCC (2012)
  13. McCormick (2010b), in: IPCC (2012)
  14. Luber and McGeehin (2008), in: IPCC (2012)
  15. Semenza et al. (2008)), in: IPCC (2012)
  16. Smoyer-Tomic and Rainham (2001), in: IPCC (2012)
  17. Yip et al. (2008); Silva et al. (2010), both in: IPCC (2012)
  18. Akbari et al. (2001), in: IPCC (2012)
  19. Barriopedro et al. (2011)