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The Unprecedented Weather Scorches South and South-east Asia

The Unprecedented Weather Scorches South and South-east Asia

Warnings of dangerous temperatures across parts of the Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India as the hottest months of the year are made worse by El Niño. Millions of people across South and Southeast Asia are facing sweltering temperatures, with unusually hot weather forcing schools to close and threatening public health.

Thousands of schools across the Philippines, including in the capital region Metro Manila, have suspended in-person classes. Half of the country’s 82 provinces are experiencing drought, and nearly 31 others are facing dry spells or dry conditions, according to the UN, which has called for greater support to help the country prepare for similar weather events in the future. The country’s upcoming harvest will probably be below average, the UN said.

April and May are usually the hottest months in the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia, but temperatures this year have been worsened by the El Niño event, which brings hotter, drier conditions to the region.

Thai authorities said 30 people had been killed by heatstroke so far this year, and warned people to avoid outdoor activities. Electricity demand soared to a new high on Monday night of 35,830 megawatts, as people turned to air conditioning for relief, local media reported.

In the capital Bangkok, temperatures reached 40.1C on Wednesday, while authorities warned of a possible “heat index” of past 52C on Thursday. This measure reflects what the temperature feels like, taking into account humidity levels – an important factor for human health because when the air is more humid, it is harder for the body to regulate its temperature by sweating.

On Friday, the Philippines weather agency warned Metro Manila and 31 other areas were predicted to experience dangerous temperatures. The heat index was expected to reach 42C in Quezon City, the most populous city in the country, it said.

The unusually high temperatures have disrupted education and agriculture across the Asian region. Bangladesh was also forced to close all schools this week after temperatures soared to between 40C and 42C in some areas.

About 33 million children in Bangladesh were affected, according to the charity Save the Children. “Leaders need to act now to urgently reduce warming temperatures, as well as factoring children – particularly those affected by poverty, inequality, and discrimination – into decision-making and climate finance,” said Shumon Sengupta, Country Director Bangladesh, Save the Children International.

Thousands of people in Bangladesh have gathered in mosques and rural fields, praying for relief from the heat.

In India, where a mammoth election lasting nearly six weeks, is now underway, the election commission met this week with officials from the weather agency to discuss how to mitigate the impact of the heat on voters. The country’s Roads Minister Nitin Gadkari fainted during a speech on Wednesday as he campaigned for the re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, saying later on social media that he had felt uncomfortable due to the heat during the rally.

The World Meteorological Organization warned in a report this week that Asia remained “the world’s most disaster-hit region from weather, climate, and water-related hazards in 2023”. Floods and storms caused the highest number of reported casualties and economic losses, it said, while the impact of heatwaves became more severe.

Last year, severe heatwaves in India in April and June caused about 110 reported deaths due to heatstroke. “A major and prolonged heatwave affected much of Southeast Asia in April and May, extending as far west as Bangladesh and Eastern India, and north to southern China, with record-breaking temperatures,” WMO said.

Human-caused climate breakdown is supercharging extreme weather across the world, driving more frequent and more deadly disasters from heatwaves to floods to wildfires. At least a dozen of the most serious events of the last decade would have been all but impossible without human-caused global heating.

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