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Scientists Call for Action to Deter Catastrophic Heat Wave Impact in Hindu Kush-Himalayas Region

The extreme heat has caused fatalities and resulted in school closures and work disruptions.

Patna: A week after Majeed Ansari, a scrap vendor, fell ill on the road due to a severe heatwave in Patna, he is yet to join his work. He is not keeping well and suffering from extreme weakness.

“Despite the severe heatwave last week, I was forced to go outside daily to earn a livelihood under the hot sun. But one day, I fell unconscious on the road, and some local people helped me by spraying water on my head and face. After that, I have been really scared. I will have to ignore the risk of hot temperature outside soon to run my household,” Ansari, 46, told NewsClick.

His predicament is similar to the poor and working-class facing the brunt of human-induced climate change, which is a major factor behind severe heatwaves and high temperatures in parts of the country in April itself.

Ansari suffered heatstroke in the third week of April when Patna recorded the highest temperature of 43.5°C degree celsius. It was a record-high temperature for April after four decades. According to the local IMD office, Patna recorded 44.6 degrees Celsius in April 1980.

A large part of Bihar, as well as neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, reeled under severe heatwave conditions in mid-April. However, this is not confined to India.

On April 17, temperatures in Dhaka, Bangladesh reached 41 degrees Celsius, while Prayagraj, India saw a high of 45 degrees and Kalewa, Myanmar reached 44 degrees. Additionally, Changsha and Fuzhou experienced the earliest local records for summer in China, and Zhejiang province broke the record for the highest April temperature. Later, on April 23, nine cities in Pakistan registered temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius and above.

The extreme heat has caused fatalities and resulted in school closures and work disruptions, exacerbating the challenges faced by already vulnerable populations in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) region.

According to scientists at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan were affected by extreme heat this month as temperature records broke across Asia.

They pointed out in a press statement that human-induced climate change is the major reason behind the growing number and ferocity of heatwaves across Asia. If these heatwaves continue, they will impact 2 billion people directly and indirectly, and cause water scarcity, food insecurity, erratic rainfall, floods, and landslides, warned ICIMOD’s scientists.

Scientists at ICIMOD have urged global governments and businesses to make faster reductions in emissions. They also urged development agencies to invest more in climate finance in order to accelerate adaptation for the region.

“Human-induced climate change is the major cause of the growing number and ferocity of heatwaves we’re seeing across Asia. These signal to the fact that the climate emergency is here for this region,” said Deepshikha Sharma, a Climate and Environment Specialist at ICIMOD.

Senior Economist & Food Systems Specialist at ICIMOD, Abid Hussain said, “All climate models show that these spikes in heat are going to increase in frequency and intensity across South Asia. Such heatwaves will impact 2 billion people either directly, in terms of heat impacts on health and work, or indirectly in terms of glacier melt, floods, water variability, erratic rainfall and landslides.”

According to the United Nations’ State of the World Climate report, the recent heatwaves coincide with record lows in Antarctic sea ice extent and the unprecedented melting of glaciers in the European Alps. 

The Hindu Kush Himalaya, which holds the world’s third-largest reserve of frozen water, is experiencing double the global average temperature increase. This accelerated warming results in faster glacier melting and unpredictable water flow into rivers. As the temperatures continue to rise, the shrinking glaciers exacerbate water scarcity and food insecurity in the region while increasing the risk of flash floods and other hazards.

 “Because of inadequate institutional and community capacity, most of these hazards are likely to turn into disasters,” noted Hussain.

“In the most optimistic scenario, limiting global warming to 1.5 C, the region stands to lose one third of its glaciers by 2100 – creating huge risk to mountain communities, ecosystems and nature and the quarter of humanity downstream,” said Sharma. Creating massive concern, the rate of ice mass loss in the Hindu Kush Himalayas has invariably accelerated over the past six decades. Even above 6,000 metres above sea level, the glaciers are thinning.

“Changes are now happening far faster than we feared, and 1.5 degrees of warning is simply too hot,” Sharma said. “It is urgent that we make rapid and drastic progress in emissions reductions and scale adaptation finance, and for a much greater impact in adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures to protect the people and ecosystems, whose vulnerabilities are increasing by the day through no fault of their own,” she added.

ICIMOD works with NASA, USAID and partners for monitoring and predicting regional droughts and extreme weather events through the SERVIR-HKH initiative.

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