In the past few weeks, Lahore has become unbearably hot. With temperatures going as high as 47 degrees on some days, this summer has shown it’s true wrath.

This isn’t the first time we have experienced extreme temperatures. In the past few years, heatwaves have become more common as the effects of global warming and climate change become more obvious. So what do we do about it?

What is a heatwave?

For those who may not know, a heat wave is a period of prolonged high temperatures. It was a couple of days or a week in the most extreme of circumstances. There is no universally accepted definition of heat-wave phenomenon; however, for this report we refer to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) definition which states that “a heat-wave occurs when the daily maximum temperature of more than five consecutive days exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5 °C.

A heat wave occurs when a system of high atmospheric pressure moves into an area. In such a high-pressure system, air from upper levels of our atmosphere is pulled toward the ground, where it becomes compressed and increases in temperature.

This high concentration of pressure makes it difficult for other weather systems to move into the area, which is why a heat wave can last for several days or weeks. Couple that with The Urban Heat Island Effect, which further worsened the heat wave conditions. The Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI) is a phenomenon whereby the concentration of structures and waste heat from human activity results in a slightly warmer envelope of air over urbanized areas when compared to surrounding rural areas.

How does it affect us?

The biggest problem with heatwaves is the loss of life. While some of us are lucky enough to be able to remain in cool areas with AC’s for prolonged times, a majority of the population is not. Most of the people in Pakistan do not have the escape from the heat like we do. As a result, many die from dehydration and heat strokes. The most vulnerable during heat waves are children, old people and people who live in poverty. In the 2015 heatwave, around 2000 people lost their lives. The same was noted during the 2017 heatwave that hit Sindh.  Moreover, a heat wave will cause a loss of the agricultural yield, affecting the production by farmers and can lead to crop shortages.

What can we do about it?

In the long term, to reduce heat waves, governments need to reduce their carbon footprint. Part of why these heat waves are starting to become so extreme is because of unregulated pollution that is destroying our planet. Creating more sustainable energy resources and reducing pollution should be the government’s priority when coming to solving the problem of heat waves. Air pollution is a major cause for heat waves, so handling that would be a good start.

Secondly, as you noticed, poverty is a huge risk factor when it comes to heat waves. The government needs to prioritize helping to alleviate poverty within the country to ensure that people at least have a roof over their heads during these extreme times. If you hadn’t noticed, all the solutions I have mentioned are plans that require investment and time. However, the heat wave is now.

So what do we do in the short run?

In the short term, it’s important to respond to heat waves like a natural disaster. Currently, while warning systems are in place to inform people of an impending heat wave, the government stops there from helping the respondents. If this was an earthquake or flood, the response from the government would be more urgency. And that difference is part of the problem; not treating heat waves as deadly natural disasters is killing people.

Secondly, helping create higher adaptive capacity for vulnerable populations is important. What this terms means is that you create a system by which people who are most affected by this can find solutions without major government intervention. There are many ways of doing this. Plantation of trees within areas most affected by heat waves can help cool down an area, especially a city. This helps creates “cool areas” through vegetation and reduces the overall pressure within the area. Distribution of water to the masses is important to ensure that people do not suffer from heat strokes and dehydration. In more developed countries, cooling centers are set up to ensure that the most vulnerable can find sanctuary. Local bodies need to be better at informing the vulnerable of the effects and the solutions to this.