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Heat waves set to explode in South Asia

Heat waves are a harsh reality of climate change and will significantly impact India and Pakistan. A team of researchers from the University of Gothenburg have published a study which outlines possible future scenarios for South Asian heat waves. 

“We established a link between extreme heat and population,” explained study co-author Deliang Chen. “In the best scenario, we succeeded in meeting the targets in the Paris Agreement, which added roughly two heat waves per year, exposing about 200 million people to the heat waves.” 

“But if countries continue to contribute to the greenhouse effect as they are still doing now, clearing and building on land that is actually helping to lower global temperatures, we believe that there could be as many as five more heat waves per year, with more than half a billion people being exposed to them, by the end of the century.” 

The analysis revealed that regions of high population, such as the Indo-Gigantic Plains, are particularly susceptible to heat waves. As populations grow, so do consumption and transportation, leading to increased emissions and more heat waves. The study authors feel that governments in India and Pakistan need to start planning for this outcome now to reduce human death and suffering. 

“We hope that the leaders in the region such as India and Pakistan read our report and think about it. In our calculation model, the range for the number of people who will be exposed to heat waves is large. The actual numbers will depend on the path that these countries choose to take in their urban planning,” said Chen. 

“We can more than halve the population exposed to intense heat waves if we reduce emissions so that we reach the targets in the Paris Agreement. Both mitigation and adaptation measures can make a huge difference.”

The region is already experiencing intense heat that is affecting farming. To combat the heat, farmers are moving higher, but this only exacerbates the problem because they are cutting down trees to farm – leading to a greater release of carbon. If nothing is done, the researchers believe the situation will become volatile. 

“Each heat wave will result in increased mortality and decreased productivity, since few people can work in 45-degree heat,” said Chen. “I fear that if nothing is done, it can ultimately lead to a huge wave of migrations.”

The study is published in the journal Earth’s Future

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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