Heat wave caused by El Nino hits Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Heat wave caused by El Nino hits Banda Aceh, Indonesia.  (ANSA)

Major drought looms as heat wave scorches Southeast Asia

Several cities across Southeast Asia are experiencing unusually high temperatures, with some areas recording all-time highs as heat waves hit the region.

By Zeus Legaspi

The threat of a major drought looms over Southeast Asia as cities in the region continue to endure high temperatures following reports of a heat wave worsened by air pollution.

Temperatures in the Vietnamese city of Tuong Duong peaked at a record high of 44.2°C on Sunday, according to the Vietnamese National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting. Luang Prabang, a city in Laos, also recorded its record-high temperature of 43.5°C.

Meanwhile, Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, set a record of 41°C over the weekend. In the Philippines, Dipolog City reached 47°C on Sunday afternoon, according to its state weather bureau, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.

Singapore recorded its highest temperature in 40 years at 37°C on Saturday, said the country’s National Environment Agency.

High temperatures are associated with a number of factors which include worsening air pollution resulting in thick smog that blankets the region.

The combination of poor air quality, and extreme heat due to trapped greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has increased the risk for heat strokes and respiratory, cardiovascular, and kidney diseases.

In Thailand alone, around 2.4 million people have already sought treatment for pollution-related ailments, data from the kingdom’s Public Health Department revealed. While Malaysia’s Health Ministry reported 14 heatstroke cases on Friday.

These numbers are expected to rise in the following weeks given the consistently high temperatures in the region.

El Niño is coming

Dr. Pedro Walpole SJ, the Chair of the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Philippines-based Non-Government Organization, said that at present, “an El Niño phenomenon is developing after about three years of La Niña.”

“Though El Niño is a natural phenomenon, under climate change it is becoming more extreme as the 3 and 4 ‘boxes’ in the Pacific are heating up and these areas indicate a growing warm zone that is spreading across the Pacific,” he said.  

“The Pacific is where the climate of Southeast Asia comes from, forming part of our biome, and so, it looks as if we are probably in for a major drought possibly worse than 1997,” Dr. Walpole added.

The 1997 drought has affected several countries in the region, especially Indonesia, which has seen large-scale environmental degradation and food insecurity due to the El Niño-related drought.

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17 May 2023, 10:10