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HEATWAVE

WHO says heatwave caused 1,700 deaths in Spain and Portugal

The World Health Organisation's European office on Friday said the heatwave baking Europe has caused over 1,700 deaths on the Iberian peninsula alone, calling for joint action to tackle climate change.

A street thermometer reading 44 degrees Celsius in Seville
A street thermometer reading 44 degrees Celsius during a heatwave in Seville on July 12, 2022. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

“Heat kills. Over the past decades, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of extreme heat during extended heatwaves, often with simultaneous wildfires,” WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a
statement.

“This year, we have already witnessed more than 1,700 needless deaths in the present heatwave in Spain and Portugal alone,” Kluge added.

The regional director stressed that exposure to extreme heat “often exacerbates pre-existing health conditions” and noted that “individuals at either end of life’s spectrum – infants and children, and older people – are at particular risk”.

Responding to a query by AFP, WHO Europe explained that the figure is a preliminary estimate based on reports by national authorities, and that the toll had “already increased and will increase further over the coming days”.

The true number of deaths linked to the heatwave won’t be known for weeks, he said, adding “this scorching summer season is barely halfway done”.

“Ultimately, this week’s events point yet again to the desperate need for pan-European action to effectively tackle climate change,” Kluge said.

The regional head of the UN health body said governments need to demonstrate will and leadership in implementing the Paris Agreement, which set the goal of limiting end-of-century warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6
degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — and preferably not beyond 1.5C.

He said that members of the WHO’s European region — 53 countries and regions including several in Central Asia — “have already demonstrated that they can work together on urgent threats to global health,” and that it was
“time for us to do so again.”

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ENVIRONMENT

You can now be fined €2,000 in Spain for leaving cardboard in the street

Two stiff fines handed out to Madrid residents who left cardboard boxes next to recycling bins rather than inside them have brought to attention a new Spain-wide law against leaving waste on the street.

You can now be fined €2,000 in Spain for leaving cardboard in the street

It’s not uncommon in Spain to see large cardboard boxes sitting on the street next to the bins, instead of inside them.

Whether it’s as a result of the contenedores de basura (bins) being full and the boxes not fitting through the slits, leaving cardboard by the side of the bin is something that most of us living in Spain have probably been guilty of at some point.

The alarming news is that if you commit this misdemeanour in Spain, you can now actually be fined for it.

A law was passed by the Spanish government in April 2022, but it is only now coming to light following two cases of people being fined for doing exactly this.

Article 108 of law 07/2022 states that “the abandonment, including littering, the dumping and uncontrolled management of any type of non-hazardous waste puts people’s health at serious risk or is causing serious damage or deterioration to the environment”, and it is therefore an offence.

Article 109 of the same law states that the fine for minor infractions can be up to €2,001, for serious infractions penalties range from €2,001 to €100,000 and for very serious offences penalties go from €100,000 to €3.5 million.

In late September 2022, a man in the Barajas neighbourhood of Madrid received a fine from the Madrid City Council, for “leaving a box outside the dumpster meant for the disposal of cardboard”. The city hall decided that he should pay €2,001.

This is the second fine that has occurred recently, with another woman being fined in Madrid’s Aravaca neighbourhood for leaving a large cardboard box outside the bins, which contained baby nappies she bought on the internet.

She was identified because her name and address were on a sticker on the outside of the box, but she has claimed that it wasn’t her who left the box by the side of the bin but rather one of the building’s concierges who was responsible for taking out the neighbours’ rubbish. 

There is no evidence that towns and cities in other regions in Spain are currently handing out such large fines to their citizens, but Spanish law states they are now at liberty to do so, and municipalities can also implement their own laws and fines relating to incorrect waste disposal. 

Madrid City Council has defended its actions pointing out that it has recently drawn up its own new law for the Cleaning of Public Spaces, Waste Management and Circular Economy, and that those who are fined can reduce the amount by 40 percent if they pay in the first 15 days after receiving the fine.

The aim of this is to have a cleaner city by implementing measures that “enable the reduction of waste generation to guarantee the protection of the environment and people’s health, and to promote a greater collective awareness,” the council said in a statement.

The draft bill is set to be approved in December and includes new penalties for offences such as leaving large cardboard boxes outside their corresponding bin, with proposed fines of up to €750 for not properly recycling bottles or other glass objects.

Madrid also plans to hand out €3,000 to revellers who don’t throw away bottles and other waste from botellones (outdoor drinking gatherings).

Between now and December, when the bill will be approved, citizens can put forward their arguments stating whether they believe the sanctions are too high and if they are justified before it is voted upon by the council.  

Madrid city mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said he was “surprised” by the high fines but explained that the final amounts will be enshrined in the new decree. He hasn’t indicated what will happen to those who have already been slapped with the higher €2,001 penalties.

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