Climate Change Exacerbates April Heatwaves in Asia
Scientists have concluded that heatwaves in April across Asia were made more frequent and intense due to climate change.

Heatwaves across Asia this April that sent temperatures soaring above 40were made hotter and more likely by human-induced climate change, according to an analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group.

The group has done more than 70 studies on a range of extreme weather events around the world so far. 

Heatwaves exacerbated conditions for internally displaced people across West Asia, especially 1.7 million displaced Palestinians in Gaza, and affected daily life in South and Southeast Asia, the analysis said. 

Millions of people who live in informal housing and work outdoors, like farmers, construction workers and street vendors are disproportionately affected by extreme heat. 

“Climate change is bringing more days with potentially deadly temperatures to Asia every year,” said Mariam Zachariah, Researcher at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London. “Unless the world takes massive, unprecedented steps to reduce emissions and keep warming to 1.5°C, extreme heat will lead to even greater suffering in Asia.”

This April in South and Southeast Asia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam broke temperature records for their hottest April day, and the Philippines experienced its hottest night ever. In India, temperatures reached as high as 46. The heat was also extreme in West Asia, with Palestine and Israel experiencing temperatures above 40°C.

April 2024 was also the hottest April on record globally, scientists said.

The heat has already been fatal. So far at least 28 heat-related deaths have been reported in Bangladesh, five in India and three in Gaza during the month of April, while surges in heat deaths have also been reported in Thailand and the Philippines this year. Given that the health systems are still not equipped to capture heat-related deaths, these figures of deaths are likely undercounts.

The heat has also led to crop failure, loss of livestock, water shortages, mass die-off of fish, widespread school closures, and has been linked to low voter turn-out in India’s on-going national elections.

Heatwaves are more frequent

Heatwaves with temperatures above 40°C are now more frequent in West Asia due to the warming caused by human activities, the scientists at WWA concluded. Climate change made heat about five times more likely and 1.7°C hotter in the region. Such extreme temperatures in West Asia could become more frequent and intense if global temperatures continue to rise.

Currently, the planet has warmed nearly 1.2°C on average compared to the pre-industrial era though it has breached higher temperature marks on several occasions. Scientists at the WWA said that if the global warming reaches 2°C, as they are expected to in the 2040s or 2050s, unless emissions are rapidly halted, similar heatwaves will occur about once every five years and will become another 1°C hotter in West Asia.

In the Philippines, climate change made this year’s heatwave 1°C hotter, while the El Niño effect, which is a global climate phenomenon, made the heatwave a further 0.2°C hotter. If global warming reaches 2°C, similar heatwaves in the Philippines will occur every two to three years and will become another 0.7°C hotter. 

In South Asia, similar 30-day heatwaves can be expected to occur once every 30 years. However, they have already become about 45 times more likely and 0.85°C hotter due to climate change.

In West Asian countries and territories of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, climate change made heatwaves about five times more likely.

Scientists said that the impact of the heat will depend on how well societies are able to deal with small changes, and how much temperature fluctuation a place is used to. 

“If you have cold years and hot years on a regular basis, your societies are much more adapted to changes in temperatures. Whereas if you usually have a relatively stable climate with temperatures always the same year to year, and also often all year round, which is in more tropical regions, then changes even if they are smaller are much more dire,” explained Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. 

Heatwave-air pollution interplay

The analysis covers South Asia that has the most number of polluted cities in the world, and where air pollution levels are deadly. While it did not take into account the impact of air pollution, scientists acknowledged the interplay and that the scale of impact will become clear in the near future.

“We know from research that air pollution compounds heat risks. And we also know that a lot of these cities have really high and dangerous levels of air pollution. So we have to wait for some time before we can say something more about the scale of impacts that we’ve seen on health during these events,” said Carolina Pereira Marghidan, climate risk consultant at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, and researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

“It is clear that air pollution and heat together create really heightened risks to health for people,” she said, answering a question from HPW during an online press conference.

Low-cost solutions 

As global temperatures continue to rise, communities, especially those in extreme distress are being forced to resort to low-cost solutions, scientists said. 

“Last year during heatwaves for example, across Syria, people have taken some actions to alleviate the pressure that heat is causing and they usually involve the use of water and shade where possible. But mostly water. So, for example, wearing clothes or of course staying hydrated are really important measures to take during the heat. I’ve also read reports that people have put damp cloths over their tents to reduce indoor temperatures,” said Marghidan.

“One of the most important things is to inform people that heat waves are coming, but they are dangerous. And just remind people of the measures that are available,” Otto said. 

She elaborated that providing access to drinking water is the most effective way to reduce the distress caused by extreme heat. Improving shade and rebuilding cities to have well-insulated homes and lots of green spaces are other ways to respond, she said. 

Image Credits: Unsplash, WWA , WWA.

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