Searing temperatures sweep like fire across Asia Pacific, causing distress for millions

Dhaka, Bangladesh 2024 A person is receiving health support from a paramedic in a cooling station established by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in Dhaka city

A person is receiving health support from a paramedic in a cooling station established by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in Dhaka city, Bangladesh

Photo: Al-Shahriar Rupam/IFRC

Kuala Lumpur / Yangon / Dhaka / Geneva

As scorching heatwaves sweep across the Asia Pacific region and countries hit record-breaking temperatures, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns that millions of people including children, the elderly, outdoor labourers and individuals with low immunity and pre-existing conditions are at very high risk.    

National Societies in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Malaysia, Philippines and more are already responding with urgent initiatives to help and relieve people through this relentless heat.

Climate change is, in large part, to blame. A report released today by World Weather Attribution, a scientific group supported by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, found all these heatwaves have been driven by climate change. The Philippines heatwave would have been “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate change. Across South Asia, heatwaves have become about 45 times more likely and almost a full degree Celsius hotter because of climate change. In coming years WWA finds that heatwaves in Asia will become even more severe and frequent.    

Moe Thida Win, MRCS Deputy Director of Disaster Management Department says:

"The Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) is responding to heatwaves by sharing efficient ways to prevent heat risks through education and awareness-raising, in Ayeyarwady, Mandalay, Magway, Yangon, Bago and Tanintharyi regions and Kayin and Mon States. This includes distributing brochures and posters, oral rehydration solutions, clean water, and towels to help people cool down at crowded places across the country.

Access to clean water remains a daily challenge in certain areas of Myanmar and MRCS is meeting this need by delivering essential drinking water supplies.”  

The extreme temperature of 48.2°C was recorded in Chauk in central Myanmar's Magway region on 28 April. According to Department of Meteorology and Hydrology of Myanmar, the highest temperature seen Naung-U, Minbu and Sagaing in Myanmar in April since records began 56 years ago, with a devastating impact on migrants and vulnerable populations, many millions of whom are already in humanitarian need.

“On top of this, cash assistance is being provided to over 250 low-income families from Shwe Pyi Thar, Dala, and Dagon Seikkan townships in Yangon, with support from German Red Cross. These families include daily labourers working under the sun, families with disabilities, and families with infants or elderly members. Additionally, MRCS is planning to install three cooling stations in these townships for resting areas.”

In the month of April, The Philippines reported having 118 cities and municipalities in a state of calamity because of the El Niño phenomenon. This prompted the national government to suspend classes at various levels. Meanwhile, 31 areas in Malaysia, have been issued a level one heatwave alert - 35 deg C and 37 deg C for three consecutive days.

In Bangladesh, heat-related fatalities and cases of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, vomiting, fever, fainting, diarrhoea, pneumonia, and sunstroke are on the rise.

On 29 April, Dhaka recorded its second highest temperature in six decades, reaching a scorching 40.6°C (105.1°F). With the average highest temperatures usually around 33.2°C (91.8°F), this year has seen increases of up to 6°C (10.8°F). Meteorologists forecast that the extreme heat will continue into May, necessitating ongoing vigilance and support for impacted communities. The current and prolonged heatwave is the longest since records began in 1948.

Kazi Shofiqul Azam, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society said:

“We are observing first-hand the critical conditions faced by outdoor workers like rickshaw pullers and construction workers who are significantly impacted. This heatwave undoubtedly represents a new and exceptionally dramatic event, the likes of which we have not witnessed in the past 76 years. Alerts are now in place in 57 out of 64 districts, affecting approximately 120 to 125 million people.

“The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, along with the IFRC, is fully engaged and on the ground in urban areas, distributing water, saline packets, and essential supplies, and providing first aid to ensure that no one is left behind during this critical time.”

Action on extreme heat is an increasing part of the work facing the IFRC and its network. In March, the IFRC and partner USAID jointly held an Extreme Heat Summit on the threat of extreme heat worldwide. That led to an extreme heat online ‘hub’ for people to share ideas to tackle the issue. The IFRC-led Heat Action Day, on 2 June, will put a renewed focus on the dangers extreme heat poses and how city officials and others can best #BeatTheHeat.

USAID and IFRC are calling on governments, multilateral development banks, private funds and philanthropy, civil society, youth, and students to take action around the globe to help prepare countries and communities for extreme heat and to increase resilience to the impacts that cannot be avoided.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact [email protected]

In Yangon:  

Swe Zin Myo Win [email protected]  

In Bangladesh:

Areefa Sinha, +8801970089077
Al-Shahriar Rupam, +8801761775075  

In Kaula Lumpur:

Afrhill Rances, +60192713641  

In Geneva:

Andrew Thomas: +41763676587