Budapest/Geneva, 1 February 2019 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling on people to check on neighbours, relatives and friends – especially older people – who may be at risk as freezing temperatures hit Europe.

With severe weather warnings in place in several countries for this weekend, Red Cross volunteers are ramping up their support for vulnerable people in need, and specialist Red Cross rescue teams are on standby.

Dr Aneta Trgachevska, a specialist in Health and Ageing based in IFRC’s Regional Office for Europe, advises people to check on vulnerable people in person and by telephone and offer them help with tasks such as picking up groceries or medication.

People at risk can protect their health and wellbeing in several ways, Dr Trgachevska said. “Drink hot beverages and eat well because this helps to maintain body temperature. Avoid alcohol which increases the risk of hypothermia, and make sure that at least one room in your house meets the minimum recommended temperature of 20 degrees Celsius.

“Older persons and those with chronic diseases need warmer clothes because their bodies produce less heat,” she said. “Dress warmly on cold days even if you are staying in the house. Throw a blanket over your legs. Wear socks and slippers. If you’re going outside protect your head, hands, and feet.”

In Spain, Italy, Germany and France, Red Cross volunteers are providing blankets, hot drinks and food to homeless people, while the Red Cross in Belgium is staffing several shelters for people living on the streets. British Red Cross teams in Northern Ireland are providing transport for care workers so they can reach people in rural areas affected by snow. In Belarus, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius, heated tents have been set up in areas with large numbers of pedestrians.

Specialist Red Cross mountain rescue teams have also been on high alert this winter, with “once in a century” snowfalls in Austria and record snowfalls in Switzerland and Germany. The Norwegian Red Cross rescue team helped retrieve the bodies of three skiers who went missing in an avalanche in January.

Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, explained that the recent breakup of the polar vortex, a large pocket of cold air sitting over the polar region, has increased the probability of cold snaps in North America, Russia and Europe.Severe weather warnings have been issued across many parts of western Europe for this weekend, with a high risk of avalanches, flash flooding and heavy snow.

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Media contacts

In Budapest: Corinne Ambler, +36 704 306 506, corinne.ambler@ifrc.org  

In Geneva: Matthew Cochrane, +41 792 518 039, matthew.cochrane@ifrc.org