A VILLAGER walks through the cracked bed of a dried-out pond on a hot summer day at Bandai village in India’s Pali district. —AFP
A VILLAGER walks through the cracked bed of a dried-out pond on a hot summer day at Bandai village in India’s Pali district. —AFP

ISLAMABAD: Although the current heatwave sweeping across India and Pakistan was consistent with what experts have come to expect in a changing climate, the head of the global weather body has said that it was premature to attribute the extreme heat in South Asia solely to the phenomenon of climate change.

“But heatwaves are more frequent and more intense and starting earlier than in the past,” World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Secretary General Prof Petteri Taalas said on Tuesday.

The WMO official said: “Heatwaves have multiple and cascading impacts not just on human health, but also on ecosystems, agriculture, water and energy supplies and key sectors of the economy. The risks to society underline why WMO is committed to ensuring that multi-hazard early warning services reach the most vulnerable.”

Extreme heat has once again gripped large parts of India and Pakistan, impacting hundreds of millions of people in one of the most densely populated parts of the world. The national meteorological and hydrological departments in both countries are working closely with health and disaster management agencies to save lives, in line with the WMO drive to strengthen early warnings and early action, the WMO said in a press release issued on Tuesday.

Says more frequent and intense heatwaves will start earlier than in the past

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Sixth Assessment Report, said that heat waves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent in South Asia this century.

In the pre-monsoon period, both India and Pakistan regularly experience excessively high temperatures, especially in May. Heatwaves do occur in April but are less common. It is too soon to know whether new national temperature records will be set. Turbat in Pakistan, recorded the world’s fourth highest temperature of 53.7 degrees Celsius on May 28, 2017.

Temperatures also neared 50°C in worst-hit areas of Pakistan. The Pakistan Meteorological Department said that daytime temperatures are likely to be between 5 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius above normal in large swathes of the country. It said the hot dry weather posed a risk to water supplies, agriculture and human and animal health.

It warned that in the mountainous regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the unusual heat would enhance the melting of snow and ice and might trigger glacial lake outburst floods or flash floods in vulnerable areas, as well as river levels.

Both India and Pakistan have successful heat-health early warning systems and action plans, including those especially tailored for urban areas. Heat Action Plans reduce heat mortality and lessen the social impacts of extreme heat, including lost work productivity. Important lessons have been learned from the past and these are now being shared among all partners of the WMO co-sponsored Global Heat Health Information Network to enhance capacity in the hard hit region.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2022

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