Singer Taylor Swift sang ‘it’s a cruel summer’ and Asia agrees with her. Large swathes of the continent are blistering away thanks to what is being called the ‘worst April heatwave in Asian history”.

From India to southern China to Thailand, stifling heat has set in unusually early this year and the effects are catastrophic. People are dying; the damage to the GDP is monumental.

This is no longer just a weather story. And for those hoping for relief, they will have to wait until next week when cooler air blows in, according to AccuWeather forecasters.

India’s burning up

For the past two weeks or so, India has been witnessing searing heat – some regions breaking previous records. The weatherman, India Meteorological Department, has issued an orange alert for West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. It has also predicted heatwave conditions in four others states, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. In fact, on Tuesday, Hamirpur and Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh sizzled at 44.2 degrees Celsius.

In West Bengal, Bankura recorded the highest temperature at 43.7 degrees Celsius, while capital city Kolkata’s maximum was 40 degrees Celsius. The temperatures in others states too soared over the 40 degrees Celsius mark. The West Bengal government has called for the closure of schools owing to the severe heat.

Schools have also been closed this week in Tripura and Odisha, while in Delhi schools will no longer conduct afternoon assemblies.

Its not only India How Asia is battling the worst April heatwave
People rest under the shade of trees to beat the intense heat in Lucknow. AP

Last Sunday, the extreme heat claimed the lives of 13 people in Kharghar, located in the western state of Maharashtra. The tragedy struck when people had gathered for a government awards function and were seated in the heat for hours. The crowds were struck by a heatstroke and had to be rushed to a hospital.

On 17 April, weather historian Maximiliano Herrera warning, “It will just get worse.”

And the heat in India is no longer just a weather or health issue. Studies are showing that the increased heat in the country is putting “unprecedented burdens” on the agriculture, economy and public health.

Research has shown that extreme heat could ultimately lead to a 15 per cent decline in “outdoor working capacity”, reduce the quality of life of up to 480 million people and cost 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050.

Also read: India’s Killer Summer: What a heatwave does to your body

Falling productivity caused by extremely high temperatures could already be costing India 5.4 per cent of its GDP, according to the Climate Transparency Report published by environmental groups last year.

And this year’s heatwave is particularly worrying as it comes earlier in the year too. University of Washington professor of global health Kristie Ebi, an author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment, told VOX, “It’s well documented that there’s greater mortality earlier in the season because people are not acclimatised to the higher temperature.”

Asia’s sizzling temperatures

And it’s not just India suffering from soaring mercury levels.

In Bangladesh, the temperatures have crossed the 40 degrees Celsius mark and just four days ago, Dhaka saw the maximum temperature rise to 40.4 degrees Celsius, making it the hottest day in the capital in 58 years. And the relentless heat has also caused an uptick in energy consumption, forcing authorities to cut power to millions of people.

An official from the ministry of environment, forests and climate change said that if the heat did not abate, they would declare a temperature emergency in certain areas, the report added.

Its not only India How Asia is battling the worst April heatwave
A rhinoceros walks in a shallow pond at the national zoo in Dhaka. The Bangladeshi capital already saw the maximum temperature rise to 40.4 degrees Celsius, the highest in 58 years. Reuters

China too is witnessing a heatwave; temperatures have exceeded 35 degrees Celsius. Climate specialist Jim Yang said 109 weather stations across 12 provinces broke their record for high temperature for April on Monday.

Japan and Korea too are witnessing record temperatures – the mercury rose above 30 degrees in Japan, with Minamata in Kumamoto prefecture reaching 30.2 degrees Celsius, an April record for the area.

Also read: A look back at the deadliest heatwaves that scorched the world

In Thailand, “the cities of Tak and Phetchabum in Thailand set all-time records,” said AccuWeather Lead International Forecaster Jason Nicholls. In Tak, the mercury rose to 45.4 degrees Celsius, while Phetchabum topped out at 43.5 degrees Celsius. The high temperature in Tak was the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the country, beating the old record of 44.6 degrees Celsius set in Mae Hong Son province in 2016.

On Tuesday, Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed concern over “dangerously high temperatures in various parts of Thailand” and said in Bangkok’s Bang Na area, temperatures “could reach 52.3 degrees Celsius,” according to a statement from the prime ministers office, the CNN reports.

Its not only India How Asia is battling the worst April heatwave
A woman riding the back of a motorbike taxi shelters herself from the sun with paper during heatwave conditions in Bangkok. AFP

A Guardian report also stated that unusually hot temperatures have been in Luang Prabang, Laos, which recorded 42.7 degrees Celsius this week, the highest reliable temperature in its history. Moreover, Vientiane recorded 41.4 degrees Celsius, the hottest day ever for the capital, last Saturday.

A similar story is being played out in Myanmar where the heat is worse than in previous years.

Reasons for ‘worst April heatwave’

AccuWeather meteorologist Jason Nicholls has explained why large areas of Asia are sweating it out in this heat. Speaking to USAToday, he said, “The heat was caused by a building, large ridge of high pressure that reached from the Bay of Bengal to the Philippine Sea.”

More broadly speaking, AccuWeather said the scale of the heatwave bears the hallmarks of climate change, as human-induced warming is making heatwaves in the region last longer at higher intensities.

Professor Emeritus David Karoly from the University of Melbourne’s School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences shared similar views. Speaking to CNA’s Asia First, he said that the extreme nature of these heatwaves is being exacerbated by climate change.

Prof Karoly said governments need to think about adapting to the heatwaves, by providing more protection in urban environments, such as increasing the amount of trees and vegetation.

With inputs from agencies

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