Monday, August 27, 2018

Experts don't like it hot

The spectre of increased killer heatwaves in a warming world threatens to deepen the divide between those who can afford to stay cool and the poorest who are likely to be left sweltering, experts are warning. As global temperatures rise, climate scientists predict heatwaves will become more frequent, intense and longer-lasting - bringing with them a dramatic hike in premature deaths, especially in countries near the Equator.

"Heat is a very big inequality issue," splitting societies between those who can afford to buy and run air-conditioning and those who cannot, said Gulrez Shah Azhar, a policy researcher with the RAND Corporation, a non-profit think tank.

Recent heatwaves in the northern hemisphere have offered a glimpse for many of what could become a frightening new reality, with dozens of deaths registered from Japan to Canada, and lethal forest fires in Greece. Yet despite the widespread impacts of rising heat, the phenomenon tends to be overshadowed by more commonly recognised weather disasters such as floods and droughts, the panel noted. As a result, little funding is being funnelled into finding solutions.

 Muthukumara Mani, South Asia lead economist for the World Bank, said recent research by the organisation showed temperatures in much of the region had already risen by up to 1.53 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years. Living standards are predicted to fall by 2050 for much of South Asia, where almost half the population, or more than 800 million people, live in areas set to become "climate hot-spots", if the world fails to meet an agreed goal of limiting global temperature rise to "well below" 2C above pre-industrial times. Most of those hot-spots are concentrated in inland areas home to subsistence farmers struggling to grow crops amid extreme weather and lacking access to public services. Packing up and moving is hardly an option for many, so making people more resilient to climate shocks is the best strategy, Mani said.

 Azhar, whose research has mapped vulnerability to heat in India, said those without access to key services such as electricity and running water are among the most exposed. In the sprawling slums that accommodate half of Mumbai's households, women are particularly at risk, as they often work in homes without indoor water and sanitation, and cook with smokey fuels in poorly ventilated rooms. While heatwave-linked deaths are hard to track, chronic exposure to high temperatures also brings a long list of health problems, from immune disease to cognitive damage, Azhar said. "Heat is not seen for the threat it poses," said Azhar.

With cities also suffering from the "urban heat island" effect, planners in Asia and Africa cannot afford to ignore the ramifications of rising temperatures on their booming populations, said Julie Arrighi, urban and disaster risk manager at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre"That foundational information of heat risks, tied with our projections of what will happen with climate change, will become really critical in ensuring cities as they grow now are considering future heat extremes in their urban planning," she said.

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