A women uses an electric fan to cool off from the heat in Kuala Lumpur on May 31, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
SINGAPORE - Countries across Asia have been hit by another round of extreme heat that has toppled seasonal temperature records throughout the region.
After punishing heatwaves struck large parts of the continent in April, temperatures spiked again in late May, normally the start of the cooler monsoon season.
Seasonal highs were registered in southeast Asia and elsewhere, and experts warned that there was more to come.
India, Pakistan and southeast Asia already experienced a punishing heatwave in April, causing widespread infrastructure damage and a surge in heat stroke cases. Bangladesh was also at its hottest in 50 years, while Thailand hit a record 45 C
"We can't say that these are events that we need to get used to, and adapt to, and mitigate against, because they are only going to get worse as climate change progresses," said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist with the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The heatwave in Vietnam, expected to last well into June, has already forced authorities to turn off street lights and ration electricity as air conditioning demand threatened to overwhelm the power grid.
The country recorded its highest temperature ever on May 6, at 44.1 Celsius (111.4 Fahrenheit), in Thanh Hoa province, about 150 km (93 miles) south of Hanoi. Another province came close to the record on Wednesday, hitting 43.3 C.
Vietnam's national weather forecaster warned on Thursday of residential fire risks due to high power consumption. With temperatures set to range from 35C and 39C in the coming two days, it also warned of the risks of dehydration, exhaustion and heat strokes.
India, Pakistan and southeast Asia already experienced a punishing heatwave in April, causing widespread infrastructure damage and a surge in heat stroke cases. Bangladesh was also at its hottest in 50 years, while Thailand hit a record 45 C.
Seasonal temperature records also continued to tumble through May, with steamy Singapore at its hottest for the month in 40 years.
The April heatwave was "30 times more likely" because of climate change, a team of climate researchers said last month, and the current temperature spike "is likely to be caused by the same factors," said Chaya Vaddhanaphuti from Thailand's Chiang Mai University, who was part of the team.
India and other countries have established protocols to deal with the health risks arising from extreme heat, opening up public "cool rooms" and imposing restrictions on outdoor work, but Vaddhanaphuti said governments need to plan better, especially to protect more vulnerable communities.
Researchers from the University of Bristol warned in a paper published in April that regions with little prior experience of extreme heat could be most at risk.
But for countries like India, where humidity is already pushing "wet bulb" temperatures to unsafe levels, preparing for the worst might not be enough, said Vikki Thompson, the paper's lead author.
"At some point we get to the limit of humans actually being able to cope with the temperatures," she said. "There could be a point where nobody could cope with them."
As many as 2 billion people will be exposed to dangerous heat if the world remains on its current track to rise an average 2.7 C this century, with India likely to be the worst hit, scientists warned in another study published last week.
Lower production of cereals and oilseeds in Asia because of El Nino is likely to heighten food inflation worries for some of the world's most vulnerable consumers, dashing hopes for further relief from lower prices in recent months
Meanwhile, early signs of hot, dry weather caused by El Nino are threatening food producers across Asia, while American growers are counting on heavier summer rains from the weather phenomenon to alleviate the impact of severe drought.
El Nino, a warming of water surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, is expected to develop in the coming months, according to meteorologists. The impact of the phenomenon typically causes hot, dry weather across Asia and Australia while bringing heavier-than-normal rainfall to the southern US and southern South America.
As El Nino looms, wheat output in Australia, the world's second-largest exporter of the grain, is expected to take a hit from dry weather, while palm oil and rice production is likely to suffer in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, forecasters and analysts said.
Soil is drying in India and Pakistan, which is expected to hamper summer crop planting, while El Nino is also forecast to blunt the impact of South Asia's crucial June-September monsoon season.
"We are looking at longer term dryness in Australia from now until at least August," said Chris Hyde, a meteorologist at US-based Maxar. "The seasonal outlook in India is a weaker than normal monsoon for the entire country, extending into Pakistan."
Lower production of cereals and oilseeds in Asia because of El Nino is likely to heighten food inflation worries for some of the world's most vulnerable consumers, dashing hopes for further relief from lower prices in recent months. Even if the weather pattern ends up boosting crop output in the Americas, the impact in Asia could reverberate across global food markets.
Wheat prices dropped to two-and-half year lows this week, while corn and soybeans have eased from multi-year peaks set in 2022.
HONG KONG NEWS