Summer heat hits Asia early, kills dozens, as one expert describes it as “the most extreme event” in climate history

New Delhi — It's still spring, but hundreds of millions of people across South and Southeast Asia are already facing scorching temperatures. Summer heat has arrived early, setting records and even claiming many lives, and is expected to get worse through May and June as summer truly begins.

At the beginning of May, extreme heatwaves were already responsible for the deaths of nearly three dozen people across the vast region. Schools were forced to close weeks before the summer holidays, and large areas of new crops withered on dry farmland.

Scientists are warning of widespread impacts in some of the world's most densely populated areas, urging governments to take immediate action to prepare for the impact of climate change and to do everything possible to mitigate human-caused global warming.

What's happening and where?

Several parts of India recorded maximum temperatures of over 110 degrees Fahrenheit last month. On April 21, people in the eastern city of Bhagdura were exposed to extreme temperatures when the temperature reached 114.8 degrees.

The India Meteorological Department on Tuesday issued a 'red alert' warning for the eastern and southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha, where temperatures have been rising since mid-April. The IMD has warned that the heatwave will get worse before it gets better.

Villagers carry containers filled with water from a well during an ongoing heatwave in Kasara, India, May 1, 2024.

Indranil Aditya/NoorPhoto/Getty

At least two people died in the southern state of Kerala due to suspected heatstroke over the weekend. The deaths of two other people were attributed to high temperatures in the eastern state of Odisha earlier in April.

Scorching temperatures hit India in the middle The general election is ongoing for six weeks – About one billion people are eligible to vote – making campaigning and voting difficult.

Authorities in neighboring Bangladesh were forced to close all schools twice in the past two weeks amid the heat wave, and temperatures rose to nearly 110 degrees on Monday.

Several areas in Myanmar recorded record high temperatures of around 115 degrees, with a much higher heat index. The heat index is actually a measure of temperature Feel Such as, taking into account humidity, wind speed and other factors.

Heatwave conditions were severe in Southeast Asia as well. In the Philippines, authorities closed thousands of schools as large areas of the country experienced drought and temperatures reaching 111 degrees – unprecedented for the region in early April.

Children take a nap in the shade on train tracks in the Khlong Toei neighborhood in Bangkok, Thailand, May 1, 2024.

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In Thailand, authorities urged people to stay at home when possible, as 30 deaths due to heatstroke have already been recorded this year. In the capital, Bangkok, the authorities said that the temperature index on Thursday reached 125.6 degrees, “very dangerous.”

In Vietnam, where temperatures exceeded 111 degrees, the national meteorological agency warned of the risk of forest fires, drought and heatstroke.

“Thousands of records are being broken across Asia, the most extreme event in global climate history.” Weather historian Maximiliano Herrera said in a social media post last week.

What is the cause of extreme heat?

Scientists are divided on the impact of the ongoing El Niño climate phenomenon, but many believe that temporary warming in the central Pacific, which has changed weather patterns around the world for years, has made things much worse this summer in South and Southeast Asia.

“I think it's a combination of El Niño, global warming and seasonality,” Professor Raghu Murtugudi, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, told CBS News. “The El Niño phenomenon turns into the La Niña phenomenon. This is the time when the maximum temperature rise towards the Indian Ocean occurs. So, all of these things basically add steroids to the weather.”

Murtogodi noted that El Niño had already developed by March 2023, so last year's heat waves were also due to a combination of global warming, El Niño and the annual cycle, but he said this year was worse due to the transition to El Niño. La Niña pattern.

However, not all climate scientists agree on the impact of El Niño.

“We saw heatwaves even last year and they were not blamed on El Niño,” Professor Krishna Achuttarao, a scientist at the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, told CBS News.

last year, Severe heat waves killed more than 100 people In India and Pakistan alone in April and May, again devastating crops and affecting millions of people.

“Just like this year, last year's heat wave extended from parts of India to Bangladesh and Myanmar, and all the way to Thailand. This year it moved east to the Philippines. So, it's the same pattern,” Achuta Rao said. “I don't particularly believe El Niño is the cause.”

Protecting the planet: The impact of climate change on extreme weather

However, most experts agree that climate change is one of the main causes of the extreme heat that has hit Asia this spring, and scientists said last year that… Climate change was making heatwaves 100 times more likely.

AchutaRao, along with other scientists working with Global weather attribution The organization collected and analyzed data on last year's heatwaves in the region and the dozens of natural disasters that came with them in Laos and Thailand. The team concluded this [extreme weather] “Events like this would not be possible without climate change.”

“Climate change is exacerbating the frequency and intensity of such events, profoundly impacting societies, economies and, most importantly, human lives and the environment in which we live,” World Meteorological Organization Deputy Secretary-General Coe Barrett said last month. .

Temperatures will reach their highest levels globally in 2023, making it the hottest The hottest year ever recorded. The United Nations weather and climate agency said temperatures in Asia are rising at a particularly rapid pace, leading to extreme weather events such as floods, major storms and hurricanes. More frequent and more serious.

The poor will suffer the most

Countries around the world have tried to manage the impact of extreme weather events through early warning systems and warnings, but poor populations in Asia will bear the brunt of the impact of heat waves, Murtugudi told CBS News.

Heat is likely to continue to cause widespread damage to crops, further impacting the lives of farmers who have already faced increasing challenges in recent years – so much so that hundreds of thousands of farmers They organized large-scale protests In India to seek government assistance.

Building healthy habitats to resist the effects of climate change

Many national governments restrict outdoor activity in an attempt to prevent deaths during extreme heat events, which have a significant impact on manual workers in the construction sector – a large portion of Asia's fast-growing economies.

Scientists and environmental activists around the world have constantly urged countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, warning that this is the only way to slow the rate of global warming. Until that happens, experts fear the death toll will continue to rise, and that millions of people will face a dire decision with each new heatwave: either work in dangerous conditions, or go to bed hungry.

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