An estimated 40 people are dying each day in Myanmar as heat lingers in region

In Cambodia, animals in wildlife sanctuaries are short of water.
By RFA Burmese and RFA Khmer
2024.05.01
An estimated 40 people are dying each day in Myanmar as heat lingers in region This aerial photo shows a fisherman collecting dead fish caused by renovation works and the ongoing hot weather conditions from a reservoir in southern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province on April 30, 2024.
(AFP)

Around 40 people are dying a day in Myanmar from soaring temperatures and animals are at risk from a lack of water in a Cambodian wildlife sanctuary as record hot weather lingers over most of Southeast Asia.

In Vietnam, where temperatures as high as 44 degrees Celsius (112 F) are driving people indoors across the country, forecasters said they are expecting that temperatures in May will again be hotter than normal 

In war-torn Myanmar, where many people have fled from their homes over the last few years and have inadequate shelter, the hot temperatures have been behind an increase in deaths since mid-March.

At least 1,473 people died in Myanmar from heat-related causes in April alone, according to numbers compiled by Radio Free Asia through funeral services and health officials in some of the country’s hottest cities. 

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A boat sits on a dried-up reservoir bed caused by renovation works and the ongoing hot weather conditions in southern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

In the central Mandalay region, about 900 people deaths were related to the extreme heat, according to M-Rescue Corps, a volunteer ambulance and rescue service. 

“The heat wave was so high in the past two or three days that people died while walking or riding a motorcycle, while some people died while in a car,” a M-Rescue Corps member said.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, the local free funeral association provided 441 free funeral services in April – an increase from 340 in March, an association official told RFA. 

Many of the deaths in Magway region have come from elderly people or people who have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, according to an official from the Myanmar Rescue Team organization there.

Children are also dealing with heat stroke, according to a resident of an internally displaced camp in Sagaing region’s Kawlin township. Also, many of the adults in the camp have to continue working outside in order to eat, he said.

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A fruit vendor drinks iced coffee in Hanoi, Vietnam May 4, 2017. (Kham/Reuters)

“Adults have to work under any weather conditions,” he said. “As a result, they commonly suffer heatstroke, dehydration and diarrhea. They do not feel as comfortable as at home, and they suffer restlessness.”

The military junta’s Health Ministry hasn’t announced any heat-related death numbers. Ministry officials weren’t available for comments when RFA tried to reach them on Wednesday.

Wild boars and dry rivers

In northwestern Cambodia, there are worries about whether the many rare species of wildlife living in the Sang Rukhavoan community forest – including raccoons, monkeys and wild boars – will have enough water to survive.

The Stung Streng river, the main water source for animals in the sanctuary, is already running low and is expected to become even more shallow because of the hot weather, according to Venerable Ton Bunlin, the chief of the Forest Monk Patrol Team.

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A street vendor uses an umbrella to protect her from the sun along a street in Manila, Philippines on April 29, 2024. (Aaron Favila/AP)

People who live in the sanctuary use the river for fishing and as a source for drinking water and to irrigate crops during the current dry season, which began three months ago, he said.

The fishermen tend to scare away deer and wild boar from the river, according to another monk who works to maintain the forest, the Venerable Lon Bunlin.

Some of the animals lay down in the river to cool down in hot weather, but the river is too shallow or has completely dried out in some places, he said.

The Cambodian government created the 30,000 hectares wildlife sanctuary in 2018 in Oddar Meanchey province. The sanctuary includes the Sang Rukhavoan community forest and other forest communities.

RFA was unable to contact the province’s Environment Department director for comment on Wednesday. Provincial Gov. Pen Kosal also couldn’t be reached for comment.

More heat expected in Vietnam

In Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam’s largest city – temperatures have ranged between 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) to 38 degrees (100 F) since April 21.

Vo Hong Son, 76, said his business of selling lottery tickets in the city’s downtown area has suffered in recent weeks as more people stay home.

“If the weather was as nice as before Tet (the Lunar New Year), I could sell 150 tickets daily and be less tired,” he said.

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A fisherman collects dead fish caused by renovation works and the ongoing hot weather conditions from a reservoir in southern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

Lately, he’s been selling only about 100 tickets per day, which brings in just 110,000 dong (US$4.40) a day. He’s also been taking frequent breaks to get out of the sun.

“If it’s too sunny and hot, I’ll find shade under a tree or sidewalk to take a break,” he said. “After refreshing myself with some water, I’ll hit the road again.”

The rest of the country – even communities in the cooler Central Highlands – have also experienced abnormally hot weather.

On Sunday, Dong Ha City in the central province of Quang Tri recorded a 44 degrees Celsius (111 F)  temperature – the highest temperature in Vietnam since the beginning of this year.

El Nino’s effect

The National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting said Vietnam’s average temperature is expected to be from 1.5 degrees to 2.5 degrees Celsius higher than average this month, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

The El Nino phenomenon has raised base temperatures above average throughout Vietnam, said Nguyen Ngoc Huy, a climate change and natural disasters forecast expert.

El Nino is associated with warming of Pacific Ocean surface temperatures and can significantly influence weather patterns, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.

As the hot weather continues into May, outdoor temperature in urban areas with little tree cover or other kinds of shade can reach up to 48 degrees Celsius (118 F) to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F), Nguyen Ngoc Huy told Vietnam’s Health and Life Newspaper in an interview.

As a wounded veteran of the Vietnam War who fought for the former Republic of Vietnam, Vo Hong Son has limited ability to find work, he said. 

“I have to push through. Otherwise, I won’t have any food,” he said, adding that he hopes he’ll soon “see a huge downpour to lessen the people’s suffering and to alleviate the intensity of the heat.”

Translated by Aung Naing, Yun Samean and Anna Vu. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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