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Wednesday, 22 May 2024
Excessive Heatwaves in Bangladesh: Impacts, Causes, and Mitigation Strategies

Excessive Heatwaves in Bangladesh: Impacts, Causes, and Mitigation Strategies

Dr Matiur Rahman

Bangladesh, nestled in the tropical region of South Asia, experiences sweltering heat waves that intensify during the summer months. These prolonged periods of extreme heat challenge the population's resilience and have significant socio-economic and environmental ramifications.

The geography of Bangladesh plays a crucial role in the occurrence of heat waves. The country's low-lying deltaic terrain and proximity to the Bay of Bengal create a conducive environment for heat buildup. As solar radiation increases during summer, the landmass absorbs and retains heat, leading to temperatures that can soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many regions. The lack of significant topographical relief exacerbates the heat stress, particularly in urban areas where concrete jungles amplify the heat island effect.

Climate change emerges as a primary driver of escalating heatwaves in Bangladesh. Rising global temperatures, attributed to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, contribute to the planet's overall warming. In Bangladesh, this translates into more frequent and intense heatwaves, prolonging the duration of extreme heat events and increasing the vulnerability of vulnerable populations, including older people, children, and outdoor workers.

Urbanisation and rapid population growth further compound the heatwave challenge. Cities like Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna experience urban heat islands with higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas. The proliferation of concrete structures, asphalt roads, and limited green spaces traps heat and reduces natural cooling mechanisms, exacerbating heat-related risks for urban dwellers.

The socio-economic dimension of heatwaves in Bangladesh is profound. Agriculture, a vital sector employing a significant portion of the population, suffers during prolonged heatwaves—crop failures, reduced yields, and water scarcity due to evaporation strain rural livelihoods and food security. The impact extends to livestock, with heat stress affecting animal health and productivity.

Health repercussions are another critical concern during heatwaves. Heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion escalate, overwhelming healthcare facilities and posing significant risks, especially for vulnerable groups. Children, the elderly, outdoor workers, and those with pre-existing health conditions face heightened susceptibility to heat-related ailments, necessitating targeted interventions and awareness campaigns.

The energy sector grapples with increased demand for cooling services during heatwaves, leading to power shortages and strain on electricity grids. Air conditioning usage spikes, exacerbating energy consumption and carbon emissions, creating a cyclical challenge in combating heatwaves while mitigating environmental impacts.

Mitigating the impacts of excessive heatwaves in Bangladesh requires a multi-faceted approach encompassing policy interventions, infrastructure improvements, community resilience, and public awareness.

Firstly, urban planning and design must prioritise climate-resilient infrastructure. Green spaces, parks, and rooftop gardens can mitigate the urban heat island effect, providing natural cooling and improving air quality. Building codes should incorporate heat-resistant materials, efficient ventilation systems, and energy-efficient designs to reduce indoor temperatures and alleviate heat stress for occupants.

Water management strategies are pivotal in heatwave mitigation. Rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, and sustainable irrigation practices can conserve water resources and ensure agricultural resilience during dry spells. Promoting water-saving technologies, such as drip irrigation and moisture sensors, optimises water usage and enhances drought resilience in farming communities.

Public health interventions are imperative to safeguard vulnerable populations during heat waves. Early warning systems, heat-health action plans, and outreach programs can raise awareness about heat-related risks and promote adaptive behaviours. Accessible cooling centres, especially in urban areas and remote communities, provide refuge for those without adequate cooling at home.

Energy efficiency measures play a vital role in reducing heatwave impacts. Promoting energy-saving appliances, renewable energy adoption, and demand-side management initiatives can alleviate strain on the power grid during peak periods while reducing carbon emissions. Public-private partnerships and incentives for green technologies incentivise sustainable energy practices and resilience-building measures.

Community engagement and capacity building foster resilience at the grassroots level. Training programs on heat stress management, first aid, and disaster preparedness empower individuals and communities to respond effectively during heat waves. Social safety nets, including support for vulnerable groups and emergency response mechanisms, ensure no one is left behind in times of crisis.

Policy frameworks must integrate climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies. National heatwave management plans, aligned with global best practices, guide coordinated responses across sectors and levels of governance. Research and innovation in climate science, meteorology, and early warning systems enhance predictive capabilities and inform evidence-based decision-making for heatwave resilience.

International cooperation and knowledge sharing are instrumental in addressing transboundary challenges posed by heat waves. Collaboration on climate change mitigation, technology transfer, capacity building, and finance mobilisation strengthen resilience efforts and foster global solidarity in combating climate-related hazards.

Excessive heatwaves in Bangladesh are a pressing challenge with far-reaching implications for human health, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability. Addressing this issue demands a comprehensive and collaborative approach, integrating climate adaptation, urban resilience, public health, and community empowerment. By implementing proactive measures and fostering resilience at all levels, Bangladesh can navigate the impacts of heat waves and build a climate-resilient future for its people.

The writer is a researcher and development worker.

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