Asia, being one of the worst continents for world hunger and housing half of the poorest people from the global population, has witnessed excessive heatwaves this year making the lives of people whose livelihood depends on huge physical exertion more difficult.
The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, observed a temperature of 40.6C (105.8F) this April which was further exacerbated by fuel shortages caused by the Ukraine war. This has resulted in regular power outages making things even worse for people living in poverty as they are left with no choice but to accept the predicament in order to survive.
This year has been extremely hot for millions of people all across the world, including North America and Europe.
A number of cities have recorded record temperatures, and experts predict July is “virtually certain” to be the world’s hottest month ever.
Countries have promised to keep the globe from warming above 1.5C, which is viewed as a critical threshold for avoiding the worst effects of climate change by cutting fossil fuel emissions. However, experts believe that this barrier will be exceeded within the next four years.
The world is presently around 1.1C warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution. However, this year’s surge has been disturbingly larger in Asia.
According to a recent analysis assembled by almost two dozen climate experts, temperatures in several regions of Asia, home to more than 4.5 billion people, were up by 2C earlier this year. And the effects of this year’s unprecedented heat have been felt across the continent.
In South Korea, at least 23 individuals died from heat-related complications between the months of May and August, more than double the amount from the same time the previous year. Temperatures in several sections of the nation had reached 38C. Heat fatigue struck hundreds of participants at the 25th World Scout Jamboree in Buan on Thursday. Other sections of the country saw significant rains and flooding.
In mid-July, Japan issued heat stroke warnings for half of the country as temperatures broke records in numerous areas. Temperatures in the country’s capital, Tokyo, reached a record high of 38C (100.4F), 8C more than an ordinary Tokyo July. In only one week in July, local media claimed that over 9,000 individuals were hospitalised across the country due to heatstroke.
In July, the temperature in a cluttered western Xinjiang province town reached 52C (125F). Only a month ago, Beijing had its warmest June day in more than 60 years, with temperatures reaching 51C (123.8F).
In May, an extreme heatwave raced over India’s north, with temperatures reaching a record 49.2C (120.5F) in areas of the capital, Delhi.
South East Asia also recorded record temperatures in a number of nations in both April and May, the region’s warmest months.
Heatwaves are among the world’s deadliest natural catastrophes, killing more people than earthquakes, typhoons, or floods. They can also cause road meltdowns, infrastructural destruction, and forest fires. Heatwaves are dubbed a “silent disaster” by some experts since the deaths are not always visible; they can also aggravate pre-existing diseases like diabetes, which are exacerbated in the heat and increase the risk of dehydration.
Heat additionally pushes the heart to operate quicker. A half-degree increase in the internal body temperature can cause the heart rate to increase by 10 beats per minute. According to the Mayo Clinic, heatstroke occurs when the core body temperature increases and remains over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). If left untreated, it can cause failure of the organs, cardiac arrest, or worse, death.
Heat increases the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, and “the sweat on your skin simply can’t evaporate [and take the heat away] in the humidity,” according to Winston Chow, an associate professor of Urban Climate at Singapore Management University. “It becomes dangerous when the body loses its natural ability to cool off.”
According to Zach Schlader, a physiologist at Indiana University Bloomington, a wet-bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) is the “absolute limit” of human tolerance.
Senthil Logesh, 26, an Indian construction worker in Singapore, stated that heat shelters and water stations were required on the site where he is now employed. Temperatures in portions of the city, which is humid all year, reached 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in May, tying a record established four decades ago.
The temperature of the wet bulb was monitored on the job site, and workers were advised to take breaks when it reaches dangerous levels. Even yet, Mr Logesh, who works 10 hours a day almost every week, claims that everyone is always “wet from sweating a lot.”
According to Prof Chow, who also is co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s top climate science agency that analyses the economic and social consequences of climate change, Asia’s population is expected to double over the next two decades, with growth primarily in tier-two cities in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
“Not only will there be more construction taking place, but it will also happen in hotter conditions, so we need to start looking at reducing risks for many vulnerable people,” he added.
While lowering emissions is critical to preventing additional global warming, Prof Chow believes that governments must also prepare for heatwaves, which will only get more intense and frequent.
In South East Asia’s richer countries, such as Singapore, facilities such as air conditioning in malls and residences exist to protect people from the heat. In order to provide additional shelter, the country intends to develop more green areas, covered pathways, and adapt building designs.
Poorer countries in the same region, on the other hand, are unable to take similar steps. Even when heat-related strategies exist, they are often underfunded and frequently ignore impoverished neighbourhoods.
In the words of Chaya Vaddhanaphuti, a co-author of the Asia heatwave study, Thailand has a national-level early alert system for heatwaves, advising people to seek shelter or wear light-coloured clothes.
“But not everyone can do that, such as homeless people, the disabled, or the elderly. The plans need to be tailored to these groups as well,” she told the BBC. “This is all assuming people actually do as they are told. These plans serve more as general recommendations than specific instructions.”
One example of a low-budget strategy that has seen some success is one devised in 2013 by the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in response to a severe heatwave that killed 1,344 people. To keep migrant slum houses cool, authorities placed white paint on their tin and asbestos roofs. They account for one-quarter of the city’s households. Public parks are frequently maintained open throughout the day to provide cover for street vendors and construction workers. Since then, other Indian towns have attempted to replicate a similar strategy.
However, opponents argue that more can be done for the poorest communities, who continue to bear the brunt of natural catastrophes such as heatwaves because they typically lack the funds or access to infrastructure to manage.
Krishni Tharu, 30, falls asleep in the same room as her two children and mother-in-law during sweltering summer evenings in Nepal, the entire family sharing a single standing fan. Temperatures in the western city of Nepalgunj, where she works as a construction labourer, reached 44C (111F) in June.
Nepal, the home of Mount Everest, is hot during the primary summer season, which lasts from May through July. According to government data, the temperature has been progressively rising year after year.
She is frequently fatigued after working 10-hour shifts from dawn to sunset, earning around US$4.50 every shift to feed her family. Such arduous outdoor labour has only become more difficult in the past few years as the heat has increased, she claims.
But she can’t stop herself. She told the BBC that reducing her family’s vital income has never been an option. “There is no way out. I have to go to work.”