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Sweden announces government investigations to better prepare for extreme weather

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Sweden announces government investigations to better prepare for extreme weather
Ministers Isabella Lövin (L) and Mikael Damberg present the new measures. Photo: Hanna Franzén / TT
14:18 CEST+02:00
The extreme drought and prolonged heatwave across Sweden this summer have raised the question of whether the country could have done more to be ready for this kind of emergency. Now, the government has announced measures to improve preparedness and set aside resources to deal with extreme weather.

In total, five government investigations were announced on Monday, with the goal of exploring how Sweden can be prepared for extreme weather events and learning lessons from this summer's heatwave.

Sweden experienced its hottest July ever this summer, along with extremely dry weather which caused problems for farmers across the country and contributed to widespread destructive forest fires. 

"We expect climate change to alter conditions when it comes to weather. Sweden's preparedness needs to take that into account," said Enterprise and Innovation Minister Mikael Damberg, who presented the measures together with Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin.

Two of the investigations relate to healthcare, with Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare asked to look into how well prepared the country's healthcare facilities are to cope with crisis situations such as extreme weather, and Sweden's Public Health Agency to investigate the processes for issuing advice and support relating to healthcare and elderly care both before and during heatwaves.

IN PICTURES: The impact of Sweden's summer heatwave is visible from space

The impact of Sweden's summer heatwave is visible from space

The high temperatures and humidity during July forced a small number of hospitals to postpone operations in order to guarantee patient safety, while the unusual heat also caused problems in some care homes for the elderly.

Meanwhile, Sweden's transport infrastructure was also affected in some areas by the summer's high temperatures, while the widespread forest fires caused lengthy delays and disruption across the country. The Transport Administration will carry out an investigation to evaluate its preparedness for this kind of emergency.

And the Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU) has been asked by the government to develop better information about the national groundwater level, so that authorities can better predict possible shortages and have more time to look into alternative water sources.

The last of the five measures announced on Monday related to to preparing for and fighting forest fires.  Enterprise and Innovation Minister Damberg said that the efforts this summer were successful, but that Sweden relied a lot on volunteer help and assistance from abroad, particularly from other EU countries.

The government has appointed a special investigator to look into the rescue efforts in the three most severely affected areas: Gävleborg, Dalarna and Jämtland. The investigator will report on their findings in January 2019, and will look at how the efforts were coordinated, how resources were used, and how information was communicated to the public, with the goal of "gaining new knowledge for similar events in the future".

The record heatwave has pushed climate issues to the top of the agenda ahead of Sweden's September 9th elections, with some recent polls showing that it is the second most important issue to voters, behind only immigration.

The centre-right Alliance has criticized the government's new measures, with a spokesperson saying they "failed to act on what really matters".

"We could have taken advantage of the investigation that the Alliance ordered after the forest fires in Västmanland in 2014, which the current government chose to close," said Beatrice Ask, the Moderate Party's spokesperson on civil preparedness.

OPINION: 'Sweden's wildfires are everyone's business'

 

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