Limited options for victims of Myanmar’s searing heat

Nearly 1,500 people died in Myanmar from heat-related causes in April alone, emergency service organizations told Radio Free Asia, compounding the misery for many in a country plagued by conflict and lacking adequate infrastructure and services.
Myanmar’s searing heat:- Nearly 1,500 people died in Myanmar from heat-related causes in April alone, emergency service organizations told Radio Free Asia.[RFA]
Myanmar’s searing heat:- Nearly 1,500 people died in Myanmar from heat-related causes in April alone, emergency service organizations told Radio Free Asia.[RFA]

Myanmar’s searing heat:- Nearly 1,500 people died in Myanmar from heat-related causes in April alone, emergency service organizations told Radio Free Asia, compounding the misery for many in a country plagued by conflict and lacking adequate infrastructure and services. 

Most of the deaths have been concentrated in Myanmar’s central dry zone, where the temperature in the town of Chauk recently reached a record-breaking 48.2 degrees Celsius (119 Fahrenheit). Temperatures regularly rise above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in the March-May hot season elsewhere in the Mandalay and Magway regions.  

Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government drew up a plan for climate change policy in 2018, including steps to increase resilience and reduce exposure to disasters, but the junta that ousted her in early 2021 is focused on fighting for its survival, critics say, leaving the population with little hope of relief.

While a lucky few can escape the searing midday heat in air-conditioned malls and cafes, most people have no such options. The heat can take its toll surprisingly quickly.

“The death of my son happened very fast,” a father in Mandalay’s Chan Aye Thar Zan village said of his son, Mann Moon Maung, 36, who succumbed to heat stroke in less than 15 minutes at his home last week.

“I immediately called a car and took him to hospital,” said the father who declined to be identified. “The doctor said my son has already died. He had no heartbeat and no blood pressure.”

A charity in Mandalay told RFA as many as 30 people a day were dying of heat stroke, many falling victim while venturing out in the middle of the day. 

“These past two or three days it’s gotten so, so bad. Some cases happened with people fainting while walking on the road or driving their motorbike. There have also been some deaths in cars,” said a member of staff at the charity.

Despite its record-breaking temperatures, the town of Chauk had not seen any deaths from the heat, said senior town official, Myo Thet U, adding that arrangements had been made to help those overcome.

“We are preparing our hospitals for heatstroke according to guidance from our Ministry of Health. After they come to our outpatient department, if they are really overheated, we will not release them,” said Myo Thet U.  “It’s very hot in the afternoon, so at that time, we’ve set up a day-care center for people in the hospital’s monastery. When it gets cooler, they can go home.”

While war, persecution and poverty have forced Myanmar people abroad for decades, there are signs that climate change and its consequences are increasingly playing a part in people’s decisions to get out, a U.N. agency said.

According to research published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in March, 16% of Myanmar migrants who were smuggled out to nearby countries cited climate-related issues as contributing factors. 

Many of those surveyed, mostly ethnic Chin and Rohingya people, had faced violence and persecution but they had also said the impact of floods, storms, drought, extreme temperatures, and their effect on agriculture had added to their economic worries.

Compounding the problem has been the lack of security since the 2021 coup, said Claire Healy, coordinator of the UNODC Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants. Travel bans and security checkpoints have stifled humanitarian efforts and left residents with limited options.

“One of our informants in Thailand described it as a perfect storm for smuggling and for irregular movement because there are very few channels to move regularly,” she said. “Because of this combination of issues – environmental issues, long-standing challenges for Rohingya people, but then violence and so on, and armed groups and everything – affecting also people of other ethnicities.”

Shar Thae Hoy, founder of advocacy group Climate Action Lab Myanmar, said it was difficult to secure funding from international institutions to deal with climate-related issues without a national focus on the problem, especially without representation for Myanmar at the United Nations climate change conference.

“Because of the lack of data and research in that field, we are not able to make a statement or propose why this is happening,” she said, adding that the problem was only going to get worse. 

“Right now, we are seeing the risk, we are seeing the vulnerabilities, we are seeing the highest amounts of deaths, which will be happening in future,” she told RFA. 

“The government itself is not implementing the  climate change policy strategy and master plan in this kind of situation because they are losing wars, and all the things they are doing right now are recruiting more youth and more young people to be in their forces.” RFA/SP

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