Heat warnings

Published May 18, 2024

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with temperatures soaring 6-8°C above normal, reaching 45°C or higher in Punjab and Sindh. The past few years have seen alarming climate trends. A new study reveals that last year’s northern hemisphere summer was the hottest in 2,000 years, with 2023 overall being the hottest year globally since records began in 1850. Last month, too, was the hottest April on record. These patterns underscore the reality of global warming, exacerbated by human activities. In Pakistan, the consequences are dire: Karachi has already witnessed deadly heatwaves, with over 1,200 deaths in 2015 and 65 deaths in just three days in 2018. Such extreme weather poses significant health risks and challenges, especially for vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly and expectant mothers.

We must take urgent action to mitigate the impacts of these heatwaves. At the government level, establishing cooling centres in urban areas can provide relief for weary travellers. Ensuring a steady supply of water and preventing power outages is crucial. Public health advisories should be disseminated widely, educating citizens on how to stay cool and recognise signs of heat-related illnesses. Community-level initiatives are equally important. Local organisations can mobilise volunteers to check on elderly and vulnerable residents, ensuring they have access to necessary resources. Schools should consider adjusting schedules or temporarily closing during peak heat periods, as seen in Bangladesh and the Philippines, to protect students from the adverse effects of extreme heat. Punjab has announced early school closures. Sindh must consider a similar plan. Moreover, long-term strategies must be adopted. Enhancing urban planning to increase green spaces can reduce the urban heat island effect. Investing in renewable energy sources will mitigate climate change, reducing future heatwaves’ frequency and intensity. The writing is on the wall. Heatwaves will become more frequent and severe. We must build resilience against the increasingly unpredictable monster that is climate change.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2024

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