More than 16,000 hospitals face being shut down by 2100 through extreme weather made worse by climate change, a group of analysts has said.
Coastal inundation is likely to be the main cause but extreme heat, wildfires and hurricanes are also likely to disrupt urgent medical care.
Lower-income countries would suffer most, with 71% of the most at-risk hospitals located there, and they will be hit right at the moment they most need functioning emergency units.
Climate analysts XDI said the risk could quadruple unless emissions from fossil fuel use are brought down rapidly, and even if the average temperature is limited to 1.8C above pre-industrial levels the risk would still double.
The 16,245 identified hospitals would be uninsurable if they were a house or business and they need to be adapted, at considerable cost, XDI said.
Dr Karl Mallon, director of science and technology at XDI, said: “Climate change is increasingly impacting the health of people around the world.
“What happens when severe weather results in hospital shutdowns as well? Our analysis shows that without a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, the risks to global health will be exacerbated further, as thousands of hospitals become unable to deliver services during crises.”
Already in 2023 climate change is bringing more extreme weather that is disrupting care, with Hurricane Idalia in Florida causing 10 hospitals to be evacuated, while the ground floor of a hospital in Tuscany, Italy, was flooded after Storm Ciaran.
South-East Asia has the highest percentage of hospitals at risk, with 18.4% of them facing total or partial shutdown by the end of the century.
South Asia has the highest number of high-risk hospitals because of its large population and XDI said there could be 5,894 hospitals there disrupted by extreme weather by 2100.
The analysts have created an online interactive map for people to search for individual hospitals and look at the risks they face through extreme weather.
Dr Mallon said: “Simply imagine that you’re in a country where one in four of your hospitals is going to be shut down when an extreme event comes through and the pressure that puts on adjacent hospitals to cover for the patients being relocated and so on.
“I think most of us would agree that there would be few countries or health systems that could cope with that level of outage.
“The most obvious thing to dramatically reduce this risk to hospitals, and keep communities safe, is to reduce emissions.”