Climate change caused by humans has made the recent heatwave that hit Laos, Thailand, India, and Bangladesh 30 times more likely to happen. But even with record-breaking temperatures in April 2023, only India had official Heat Action Plans (HAP) in place.
A heat action plan is a set of measures and strategies implemented by governments to minimize the impact of heatwaves on public health and vulnerable populations. It typically includes early warning systems, public awareness campaigns, provision of cool shelters, and targeted support for at-risk groups.
Vientiane Capital saw its hottest day recorded on 15 April when temperatures soared to 42.5 degrees Celsius, while Tak, a province in Thailand saw temperatures reach 45.5 degrees Celsius in the same. In the northern province of Luang Prabang, temperatures peaked at 42.7 degrees Celsius for the first time ever.
Scientists say temperatures of this magnitude will likely lead to spikes in hospitalizations for heat stroke, as is the case with Navi Mumbai in India. It will also cause forest fires as Laos and Thailand have experienced this year.
In the absence of an official HAP, in early 2021, ICLEI, a global organization that coordinates sustainable development action by local governments, worked with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to prepare an unofficial HAP for Rajshahi in western Bangladesh.
Thailand has a national-level warning system for heat waves but no specific plan for those in vulnerable areas. In contrast, Laos does not have a plan at all, said Chaya Vaddhanaphuti, a lecturer in geography at Chiang Mai University in Thailand.
Actions such as text message warnings sent to everyone in the city when temperatures are forecast to exceed 40 degrees Celsius, as well as moves targeted to safeguard poor and vulnerable communities, such as painting tin and asbestos roofs white to reflect the heat have been done in India and proved to be a step in the right direction, which Laos can adopt as well.
Taking action to create a HAP is critical, as scientists predict even bigger heatwaves to hit South and Southeast Asia, which will disproportionately have the worst effect on marginalized communities.
Studies also show that the recent heatwave in Laos and Thailand would have been nearly impossible, if not for the influence of climate change. At such a crucial juncture when countries are struggling to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, it is crucial for them to HAPs in place, especially in places like Laos where humidity increases the effects of heatwaves.