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Asia’s Record-Setting Heat Wave Demonstrates Dangers of Warming World

Asia remains in the grip of a blistering heat wave, chiming with predictions from climate scientists that 2023 could be the world’s hottest year yet.

In an ominous sign ahead of the northern hemisphere summer, an emerging El Nino weather pattern is pushing the mercury to unprecedented levels in southern parts of the continent.

Vietnam reported its highest ever temperature of 44.2C over the weekend, triggering power shortage warnings. The Philippines cut classroom hours after the heat index reached the “danger” zone, reflecting the potentially deadly combination of heat and humidity.

Read More: How Heat Waves Could Have Long-Term Impacts on Your Health

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The scorching temperatures follow a pattern of increasing extreme weather over the past several years that’s sending the world into uncharted territory. The sweltering conditions are testing the ability of governments to protect public health and also to prevent major disruptions to agriculture and power generation in economies that are still recovering from the ravages of Covid-19.

El Nino — characterized by warmer ocean temperatures across the Pacific — has far-reaching impacts on weather patterns around the world. It could bring relief to drought-parched areas of Argentina and the southern US, while blanketing parts of Asia and Australia with hotter, drier conditions. Coffee, sugar, palm oil and cocoa crops would be especially vulnerable.

Temperatures in Thailand remained above 40C in many northern and central regions over much of last week, pushing power demand to a fresh peak. A group of businesses and banks have asked the government to prepare an action plan to deal with a potential drought that they say might last for three years.

Read More: How to Build Up Your Heat Tolerance to Prepare for a Hotter World

South East Asia’s heating has been off the charts for several weeks. It’s gone nuts in the past 2 days:
>Laos: hottest day in history, 43.5C
>Vietnam: hottest day in history, 44.1C
>Dozens of monthly records broken

Thailand recorded its hottest day ever on April 15 (45.4C) pic.twitter.com/uFddhbXbxG

— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) May 7, 2023

Rainfall in Malaysia may be as much as 40% lower in some areas, which could put palm oil production at risk in one of the world’s biggest producers of the commodity. Authorities are closely monitoring the return of forest fires and air pollution. An El Nino in 2015 caused a particularly bad episode of haze that was one of the worst environmental disasters in Southeast Asia.

Elsewhere in Asia, scorching temperatures have also roasted parts of China, India and Bangladesh in recent weeks. Yunnan province, a major aluminum hub in southwest China, suffered its worst drought in a decade last month. India is on alert for more heat waves in May, after soaring temperatures in April prompted school closures in some states and caused at least 11 people to die of heat stroke after attending an event.

Read More: Where We’ll End Up Living as the Planet Burns

—With assistance from Thomas Kutty Abraham, Nguyen Kieu Giang, Manolo Serapio Jr. and Anuradha Raghu.