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Unusual heat scorches parts of region

By Prime Sarmiento and Xu Weiwei in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-20 09:32
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People holding small electric fans walk on a street amid a heat wave in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, on Saturday. YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AP

As a supervisor of a construction company in Jakarta, Yudi Hermawan has had to constantly advise his workers to drink more water to survive the extreme heat that is scorching the Indonesian capital and much of the region.

Hermawan said the heat is even worse at their project site, which is surrounded by tall buildings that block the fresh air.

"We are lucky because so far none of my workers has fallen ill," Hermawan said, adding the heat can sometimes be "almost unbearable".

The months of March to May are usually the hottest period for Indonesia and most countries in the Asia-Pacific. However, weather forecasters said this year has been among the hottest in decades, with average temperatures hitting more than 40 C.

Indonesia recorded its hottest April in more than 40 years, said Achmad Fachri Radjab, head of the country's meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency.

"The average air temperature in April 2024 was the highest compared to April from 1981 to 2023," he told Agence France-Presse.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European Union's climate change monitoring service, said in its latest bulletin that the global average surface air temperature last month was 15.03 C, 0.67 degree above the 1991-2020 average for April.

The World Weather Attribution, a group of researchers from various institutions, said that in the current climate, warmed by 1.2 degrees since pre-industrial times because of human activity, "this kind of extreme heat event is not very rare".

William Yu, founder and CEO of the World Green Organisation in Hong Kong, said climate change has caused the blistering heat that is harming human health.

Governments need to develop policies and compensation programs for health problems such as heatstroke and dehydration caused by extreme heat, Yu said. This is especially true for workplaces that have insufficient ventilation or for outdoors workers.

"It is indeed time for all countries to take measures for all those changes" to protect the safety and health of the workers, Yu told China Daily.

Worsening situation

Anjal Prakash, an associate professor and research director at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, said the climate change-induced heat wave in South Asia is exacerbated by rapid urbanization and deforestation.

Establishing cooling shelters, distributing potable water and raising public awareness are among the immediate measures that can be implemented to counter the impact of extreme heat, Prakash said.

Long-term strategies include reforestation, urban planning for heat resilience and switching to renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change, he said.

Heatstroke resulting from extreme heat has taken a heavy toll in Asia in recent months.

Sixty-one people in Thailand have died from heatstroke since the start of the year, according to local health authorities. The Philippines Department of Health reported 34 cases of heat-related illness, including six deaths from heatstroke, in the first four months of the year, and two people died in India's southern state of Kerala, reportedly because of the heat wave.

The heat wave has also led to suspension of classes in Bangladesh, the Philippines and parts of India. The World Weather Attribution said the extreme heat that has forced thousands of schools to close in South and Southeast Asia can negatively affect the development of human capital.

Extreme heat has also parched farmlands, threatening food security. The long dry spell has damaged more than 6 billion pesos ($104 million) worth of crops in the Philippines and increased saline intrusion in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

India's capital New Delhi and its surrounding areas have had intense heat wave conditions over the past few days, with the mercury soaring to 47.4 C on Friday. On Saturday, New Delhi recorded temperatures in the range of 45-46 C.

Romina Khurshid Alam, coordinator to the Pakistani prime minister on climate change and environmental coordination, said soaring temperatures in mountainous regions globally, including in Pakistan, are accompanied by changes in seasonal weather patterns, melting of glaciers and the thawing of permafrost.

Leonardus Jegho in Jakarta and Xinhua contributed to this story.

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