Record heat threatens health, food security of Bangladeshis

DHAKA (Arabnews): Record high temperatures are threatening the health and food security of Bangladeshis as their already climate-vulnerable country is caught in a massive heatwave sweeping parts of Asia.

Most of the region has been hit hard, with residents sweltering since the beginning of the month. April is typically one of the warmest months, but the heat being experienced in South and Southeast Asia this year is abnormal.

Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, saw temperatures reach 40.6 degrees Celsius on April 16 — the highest in six decades. And it is likely that, with global warming, the record-breaking trend will continue.

“We can’t say that this heatwave will not repeat … Due to the effects of climate change, the frequency of heatwaves will increase,” Bangladesh Meteorological Department director Azizur Rahman told Arab News over the weekend, when Dhaka’s temperature was about 37 degrees Celsius — about 4 degrees higher than the same period last year.

“In 1965, Dhaka witnessed a highest temperature of 40.2 degrees Celsius, in 2014 it was 40.3. This year, the highest temperature was 40.6.”

The length of the recent heat wave was also longer than usual, Rahman explained. “It continued for around 16 days, from April 4 to April 20. It was very unusual. Normally heatwaves appear with some intervals,” Rahman said, adding that another heatwave was likely in the coming days.

Dhaka, a sprawling city of more than 20 million people, has been hit especially hard due to the “heat island” effect, in which iron and concrete infrastructure magnifies the heat.

The extreme weather is already taking a toll on Bangladeshis, with cases of heat exhaustion and heat stroke on the rise, and looming outbreaks of other diseases.

“Compared to last year, we have heard of (higher) numbers of heat stroke cases,” Rahman said. “Cholera and diarrhea also break out during heatwaves.”

Amid the prolonged heat and lack of rain, concerns are already rising over this year’s crops and food security.

“Different seasonal fruits can’t grow to maturity,” Prof. M. A. Rahim from Daffodil University in Dhaka told Arab News, explaining that unripe fruits fall from the trees as the heat breaks their attachment to the plant, while the flowers of other fruit plants do not get pollinated as bees and other insects cannot bear the heat.

The weather also threatens the country’s rice crop, as paddy cannot grow and farmers are unable to work in the scorching temperatures.

“The heatwave is impacting the production of rice, which is our staple food,” Rahim said, estimating that rice production could fall by up to 40 percent. “This hot temperature is also affecting the germination process that impacts food production to a high extent. In many ways, this heatwave is affecting our food security.”