South-east Asia witness ‘historic’ heatwave

Countless schools in the Philippines have ceased conducting face-to-face classes due to extreme heat. Meanwhile, Indonesia is grappling with soaring rice prices caused by prolonged dry spells, and in Thailand’s waters, scientists are alarmed by high temperatures potentially devastating coral reefs.

Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist and weather historian, describes the ongoing heatwave across Southeast Asia as unprecedented. Record-breaking temperatures have been recorded at various monitoring stations, such as in Minbu, Myanmar, where temperatures reached 44°C, marking the earliest occurrence of such extreme heat in Southeast Asia’s climatic history. Hat Yai in Thailand reached 40.2°C, a record high, and Yên Châu in Vietnam hit 40.6°C, unprecedented for this time of year.

This intense weather follows warnings from the World Meteorological Organization last month about severe heat conditions in February, attributing the scorching weather to human-induced climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, which brings hotter, drier conditions to the region.

Professor Benjamin Horton of the Earth Observatory of Singapore notes the surprising level of heat experienced globally over the past year, attributing it to increasing greenhouse gases. He emphasizes the urgency for societies to adapt to these extreme conditions.

Governments across the region are struggling to respond. In the Philippines, nearly 4,000 schools have suspended face-to-face classes due to dangerous heat levels. In Manila, children are resorting to portable pools in the streets to cool off during Easter week.

Ruby Bernardo, president of the teaching union ACT, highlights the challenges faced by schools in adapting to extreme weather conditions. The union advocates for adjustments to the school timetable and greater investment in climate-resilient infrastructure.

Horton suggests practical adaptations such as adjusting schedules and wearing appropriate clothing to mitigate the effects of extreme heat.

The agricultural sector is also significantly affected. In Indonesia, rice prices have surged, and in Vietnam and Thailand, crop yields are falling, leading to economic strain for farmers.

Health warnings have been issued to help people avoid heat-related illnesses, but many workers, especially in sectors like agriculture and construction, have limited options to escape the heat.

The impact extends to marine ecosystems as well. Assistant Professor Thon Thamrongnawasawat warns of the potential destruction of coral reefs and fish due to rising sea temperatures.

He urges proactive measures to address the challenges posed by extreme heat, including reducing global heating and tackling marine pollution.

In summary, the region faces unprecedented heatwaves, necessitating urgent adaptation and mitigation efforts to minimize the adverse effects on communities, agriculture, and marine ecosystems.

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