Social Geographies of Sickness and Health In Contemporary Paris

Toward a human ecology of mortality in the 2003 heat wave disaster 1

Authored by: Richard C. Keller

The Routledge History of Disease

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415720014
eBook ISBN: 9781315543420
Adobe ISBN: 9781134857876

10.4324/9781315543420.ch16

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Abstract

Descriptions of the catastrophe are uniform, cast in a language of extremity and exception. In the first two weeks of August 2003, France was struck by ‘an unprecedented heat wave’ of ‘exceptional intensity, duration, and geographic extent,’ one of a ‘magnitude’ and ‘severity’ unmatched in more than a century. A ‘murderous heat wave’ that served as a capstone to an already ‘particularly murderous summer,’ the canicule of August 2003 wrought ‘dramatic health consequences’ on the French population in its death toll of nearly 15,000. 2 Such language rightly points to a meteorological crisis. The degree of this disaster is perhaps most tellingly measured by the absence of any significant reduction of mortality in the aftermath of the heat wave, which indicates that most of the deaths were directly attributable to heat, rather than to a ‘harvesting effect’ of anticipated deaths in an already weak population. 3

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