BANGKOK: Sweltering under a blistering sun, people across South and Southeast Asia have been taking cover beneath any shelter they can find as they pray for cooling rains with record temperatures hitting the region.
“It’s hotter and hotter every year,” said Mikako Nicholls, shielding herself from the blazing rays with an umbrella near Bangkok’s central Lumpini Park on Wednesday (Apr 19).
Scientists say global warming is exacerbating adverse weather, with a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that “every increment of global warming will intensify multiple and concurrent hazards”.
Nicholls said Bangkok’s warmer spell was the hottest she had experienced in five years in the capital, and she was trying to stay indoors or in the shade.
Thailand’s Meteorological Department said on Wednesday that temperatures hit a record-equalling 44.6 degrees Celsius in the western province of Tak on Apr 15, warning that the baking weather would continue into next week.
“It’s possible that this year’s heat might have been exacerbated due to human actions,” said deputy director-general Thanasit Iamananchai.
The kingdom typically endures a spell of hotter weather preceding the rainy season, but the sun has shown an extra intensity this time around.
“This year’s record heat in Thailand, China and South Asia is a clear climate trend and will cause public health challenges for years to come,” said scientist Fahad Saeed, regional lead for climate policy institute Climate Analytics.
He warned that soaring temperatures were a result of climate change – and that the impact on vulnerable populations would be dire.
“The extreme heat that we’ve witnessed over the last few days will hit the poor the hardest,” said Saeed, based in Pakistan.
“It may even be life threatening for those without access to cooling or adequate shelter.”
A similar story played out in Myanmar where Ko Thet Aung, a taxi driver in the country’s commercial capital Yangon, said the heat was worse than in previous years.
“I can’t drive if the temperature is too hot during the day,” said the 42-year-old.
PRAYERS FOR RAIN
In Bangladesh hundreds gathered in the capital Dhaka this week to pray for rain after temperatures hit 40.6 degrees Celsius – the highest recorded since the 1960s.
“They held prayers for rain. They also held prayers for easing the temperature and protection from the heatwave,” local police chief Abul Kalam Azad told AFP.
The low-lying country is being dramatically impacted by climate change, enduring devastating flooding and ever-more erratic rainfall.
Neighbouring India saw at least 13 people die from heatstroke at an awards event held outside in the west of the country on Sunday.
It came as the nation’s weather authority said parts of northern and eastern India were experiencing temperatures roughly three to four degrees Celsius above normal.
Urmila Das, a housewife in the north-western city of Guwahati, said her family were suffering under the extreme conditions.
“We are not used to this kind of heat,” the 42-year-old said, adding that she had not sent her children to school as a precaution.
“Normally, we have rains in this part of the region from mid-March but there is no rain this year. It is very difficult.”
Contract labourer Sumu Bezbaruah, who works outside mostly delivering supplies to shops, said the heat was overwhelming.
“It has become very difficult to travel and deliver the goods,” he said.
“I do not remember seeing this kind of weather in the recent past.”
ADAPTING TO THE CLIMATE
Professor Emeritus David Karoly from the University of Melbourne’s School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences said in many parts of south and central Asia, it is normal for extreme temperatures to occur towards the end of the dry season before heading into the wet season.
However, the extreme nature of these heat waves is being exacerbated by climate change, he told CNA’s Asia First on Thursday.
“Farming and agriculture are critically affected by these sorts of heat waves. People are having enormous difficulty coping with these extreme temperatures when they don’t have access to air conditioning or shelter,” said Prof Karoly, who is also Councillor in the Climate Council of Australia.
Natural ecosystems are also under pressure from the extreme temperature, with native animals struggling to cope until some relief comes with the start of the rainy season, he added.
Prof Karoly urged people to stay in shaded and air-conditioned areas, and not go out unnecessarily in the middle of the day in the hottest temperatures.
Drinking plenty of fresh, clear water is also crucial, he added.
“In terms of agriculture, it often may mean that it also requires, particularly for animals, to keep them under shelter and protected from the extreme temperatures in the peak heat of the day,” said Prof Karoly.
Workers on vegetable farms should also spend less time outdoors in the middle of the day, and work earlier in the morning and later in the afternoons and evenings, when the temperatures are cooler.
Prof Karoly said governments need to think about adapting to the heat waves, by providing more protection in urban environments, such as increasing the amount of trees and vegetation.
“It is critically important that developed countries take the lead in action on climate change,” he added, citing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Developed countries should provide additional financial support to developing countries for climate change adaptation, but have so far not been meeting those commitments, said Prof Karoly.
The financial support should also help drive a transition towards a zero carbon economy, by reducing the use of fossil fuels in providing electricity and transport, he added.
“Until we can fully address the adverse impacts of climate change, we’re still going to get these extreme temperatures more frequently and over larger areas in Asia,” said Prof Karoly.
Source: Channel News Asia