HomeAsiaThe heat wave hits Southeast Asia: a likely pattern for the future

The heat wave hits Southeast Asia: a likely pattern for the future

Record heat has hit Southeast Asia in recent weeks, causing deaths and hospitalizations, schools closing and farmers and business owners suffering economic losses.

In Vietnam, the temperature hit a record high of 44.2 degrees Celsius (111.5 F) on Sunday. In the central Magway region of Myanmar, it rose to 46 C (114.8 F).

Thailand’s capital Bangkok had its hottest day on record on Sunday, when the heat reached 41 C (105.8 F), while in Laos, the temperature broke last month’s national record by hitting 43.5 C in Luang Prabang.

“The weather is horrible. I sweated a lot and was as wet as a drowned rat,” said Do The Dang, an engineer with an aviation-related company in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. He said that it was still hot inside his office even though all the air conditioners were running at full capacity.

Authorities across the region have urged people to stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day.

In Myanmar, media reports said 61 people had died due to heat-related problems, although there was no official data on this and Radio Free Asia was unable to verify the number.

The searing temperatures appear to be the result of a confluence of factors, from below-normal rainfall in previous months and the return of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean to human-induced activities such as rampant urbanization and greenhouse gas generation. greenhouses that trap heat. .

And we’re likely to see more of this kind of oven-like heat, experts say.

“As the world continues to warm, heat waves are expected to become more frequent, longer lasting and more intense, just like what we are seeing right now,” said Professor Ailie Gallant, a climate scientist at Monash University. in Melbourne. Australia.

“So unfortunately we should expect more of these events in the future,” he told Radio Free Asia.

Extreme heat

Over the past 60 years, temperatures in the Asia-Pacific region have risen faster than the global average.

In tropical Southeast Asia, summers are usually hot before the monsoon, but temperatures generally do not exceed 38 C (100 F) due to humidity.

“Extreme heat is common in the run-up to the rainy season, but the weather system that has caused this has been particularly severe,” said Gallant, an expert on weather extremes, calling the recent regional heat wave “exceptional.” and far-reaching.” ”

A man buys bottled water in Lumpini Park in Bangkok on May 9, 2023. Credit: Subel Rai Bhandari for RFA

In Thailand, the average temperature in April, usually the hottest month of the year, was 2.5 degrees Celsius above the historical average, the country’s Meteorological Department said, warning people to take precautions.

Temperatures reached 45.4 C (113.7 F) in the western province of Tak, the highest ever recorded anywhere in the country.

Philippine authorities cut school hours Monday after the heat index reached the “danger” zone as power outages paralyzed parts of the capital Manila and nearby areas.

In Cambodia, where temperatures soared to 41.6 C (106.8 F) over the weekend, the heat has been a hindrance for athletes competing in the Southeast Asian Games, an Indonesian coach told media. , while a Malaysian health official warned the players of heat stroke.

Vietnamese residents said the heat wave has seriously affected their lives and income. Street vendors faced losses as their customers stayed indoors, while delivery motorcycle drivers had to stop working during the hottest hours to protect themselves.

Business was down by around 30% due to the hot weather, said Le Thi Binh, a food vendor on Phu Quoc Island.

Hit business, livelihood

In Laos, the heat wave has hit agriculture and tourism.

Due to lack of rain and heat, the soil has dried up and the tubers have died, a Vientiane cassava farmer said, adding that cassavas are usually easy to grow, but not if it’s that hot.

Another farmer in Savannakhet said many vegetables were not hardy in the hot weather and would likely die.

The country’s tourism, which contributes more than 12% of gross domestic product, is also suffering. “Many tourists will not visit Laos due to high temperatures,” said a tour operator in Luang Prabang.

Myanmar’s department of meteorology and hydrology warned workers to avoid direct sunlight during the early afternoon when the temperature is highest.

“Because it’s so hot, I can’t sleep much at night. I have to shower often,” said a Yangon resident. “I lose sleep over this heat. It also affects my ability to work.”

Many people have fainted or visited emergency rooms in Myanmar, said Than Than Soe, president of the Shin Than Khwint (Right to Survive) aid group, though RFA could not confirm this.

Precipitation, changing weather patterns

Below normal rainfall during the winter months is partly responsible for the high temperatures. the experts say.

“Because dry ground heats up faster than wet ground, a hot anomaly forms naturally when spring comes,” Tieh-Yong Koh, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, told Bloomberg News. .

The Sesan River in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri Province partially dried up due to extreme heat and lack of rain, May 5, 2023. Credit: Citizen Journalist

A Burmese meteorologist also said that the rise in temperature in the country is due to the lack of rainfall in Myanmar’s central and delta regions.

“The temperature is rising in the Ayeyarwady, Yangon and Bago regions because it did not rain there for a long time,” Hla Tun, director of Myanmar’s department of meteorology and hydrology, told RFA. “Places where it didn’t rain are feeling extreme heat.”

Some experts warn that the recent high temperatures are an ominous sign ahead of summer with the onset of El Niño, a weather pattern characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, which can have significant effects on weather patterns around the world.

In Southeast Asia, that would mean hotter and drier weather conditions.

The World Meteorological Organization said earlier this month that there is an 80% chance that El Niño will appear in October “and is likely to result in higher global temperatures.”

The El Niño phenomenon and “weird weather” patterns had increased the heat in Asia, especially in inland areas, said Professor Le Anh Tuan, former deputy director of the Institute of Climate Change at Can Tho University in Can Tho, Vietnam.

Human factors

Vietnam, especially its urban areas, would experience a sweltering summer this year, caused not only by extreme weather but also rampant urbanization and transportation activity.

“In the coming years, dry weather and droughts would increase, and this would significantly affect people in urban and agricultural areas. In particular, salinization would spread further towards the mainland,” he said.

“I don’t think (the extreme weather) is nature’s fault,” said another observer, Dinh Kim Phuc. “It is caused by… deforestation and the excessive use of fossil fuels. Our atmosphere has fundamentally changed because of this.”

A UN report in March warned that “every increase” in global warming, due to greenhouse gases from human activities, will increase multiple and concurrent dangers.

According to scientists, the last eight years have been the eight warmest on record globally, with 2016 being the hottest on record.

The WMO says that’s mainly due to the “double whammy” of a powerful El Niño event and human-induced warming due to greenhouse gases.

Journalists from the FRG Laotian, Vietnamese and Burmese services contributed to this report.

Edited by Malcolm Foster

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