Paul J. Stephenson


In the sweltering temperatures of August 2003 there were over 15,000 fatalities in France, the majority among the elderly. The heatwave (canicule) was the greatest natural catastrophe in Europe for 50 years. Political mismanagement contributed to the death toll and government initially to blame medical services. However, other politico-cultural, societal and psychological factors may have contributed to the failure to protect the most vulnerable citizens. This article identifies 20 obstacles (“pathogens”) to ensuring effective response in the face of environmental or weather-related threats, distinguishing between state-institutional and individual-community barriers, most of which have a cultural dimension. These factors require greater consideration by policy-makers to improve preparedness for environmental threats in the EU. The case raises questions about crisis management and how best to reduce risk for elderly populations, illustrating the limits of the state in offering social protection through institutionalised solidarity mechanisms, and recognises calls to strengthen community-capacity.


Article Keywords

Climate change, crisis management, France, heat wave, liberty, old age, political culture, political leadership, Raffarin, solidarity, welfare state

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