Heatstroke kills 30 in Thailand this year as Southeast Asia bakes

By Damon Wake with AFP bureaus

Millions of people across South and Southeast Asia sweltered through unusually hot weather on Thursday, as the Thai government said heatstroke has already killed at least 30 people this year.

A wave of exceptionally hot weather has blasted the region this week, prompting thousands of schools across the Philippines to suspend in-person classes.

Millions of people across South and Southeast Asia sweltered through unusually hot weather on Thursday, as the Thai government said heatstroke has already killed at least 30 people this year.

A wave of exceptionally hot weather has blasted the region this week, prompting thousands of schools across the Philippines to suspend in-person classes.

An Indian minister blamed hot weather after he fainted during an election campaign speech as the country’s weather bureau said severe heatwave conditions were expected in nine eastern and southern states in the coming days.

Even mountainous Nepal issued health warnings and put hospitals on alert on Thursday as temperatures soared in its southern plains.

Scientific research has shown climate change is causing heatwaves to be longer, more frequent and more intense.

The United Nations said this week Asia was the region most affected by climate and weather hazards in 2023, with floods and storms the chief causes of casualties and economic losses.

City authorities in Bangkok gave an extreme heat warning as the heat index was expected to rise above 52 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit).

Temperatures in the concrete sprawl of the Thai capital hit 40.1C (104.2F) on Wednesday and similar levels were forecast for Thursday.

The heat index — a measure of what the temperature feels like taking into account humidity, wind speed and other factors — was at an “extremely dangerous” level in Bangkok, the city’s environment department warned.

– ‘Danger’ zone –

Authorities in Udon Thani province, in the kingdom’s rural northeast, also warned of blazing temperatures on Thursday.

The health ministry said late Wednesday that 30 people had died from heatstroke between January 1 and April 17, compared with 37 in the whole of 2023.

Direk Khampaen, deputy director-general of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, told AFP that officials were urging elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions including obesity to stay indoors and drink water regularly.

The Philippines’ state weather service said the heat index in 38 cities and municipalities, including Manila, would be in the “danger” zone on Thursday — feeling like 42-51C (108-124F).

“Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are likely” in such conditions, the service said, and “heat stroke is probable with continued exposure”, the service said.

India’s Roads Minister Nitin Gadkari fainted during a speech on Wednesday as he campaigned for the re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

“I felt uncomfortable due to the heat during the rally,” Gadkari wrote on social media platform X, adding that he had recovered and would continue campaigning.

India is in the middle of a marathon election staggered across six weeks, with large outdoor campaign rallies being staged across the country.

The election commission said this week that it was reviewing the impact of heatwaves and humidity before each round of voting with a view to “mitigatory measures” that would still allow people to cast their ballots.

– Nepal hospital alert –

In Nepal, temperatures were forecast to soar above 40C (104F) in two southern provinces, and the government ordered officials to prepare.

“We have already circulated messages to local bodies to be alert and asked hospitals to be on standby to serve more patients,” Roshan Pokhrel, a secretary at the Ministry of Health and Population, told AFP.

Krishna Kumar Gupta, an official in southern Lumbini province, said incidences of wildfires have also gone up.

“Yesterday it was 43 degrees Celsius and people have also started to feel sick. We are getting complaints of diarrhoea, dehydration and headaches,” he said.

April is typically the hottest time of the year in Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia but conditions this year have been exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern.

There were record levels of heat stress across the globe last year, with the United Nations weather and climate agency saying Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace.

Thailand has sweltered through a heatwave this week, with a temperature of 44.2C (111.6F) recorded in the northern province of Lampang on Monday — just shy of the all-time national record of 44.6C (112.3F) hit last year.

Across the border in Myanmar, the temperature reached a blazing 45.9C (114.6F) on Wednesday, with more of the same expected Thursday.

The chaos and conflict unleashed by the military’s 2021 coup has led to rolling power blackouts in much of the country, hampering people’s ability to keep cool with fans and air-conditioning.— Agence France-Presse

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