Bangladesh has been facing increasing heat waves during summer for the last couple of years. This year (2024) is the hottest year yet, recording average temperatures of 40 to 42 degrees Celsius in all the districts. The population and biodiversity of the country are at stake due to such an unprecedented catastrophe.

According to news reports, at least four individuals have died from heatstroke, and millions of people have suffered several health implications, including vomiting, diarrhoea, heat exhaustion, headache, pneumonia, shortness of breath, dehydration, etc. Some of the educational institutions temporarily closed due to the extreme heat.

Searing heat has forced 33 million children out of schools, as temperatures in parts of the country soared past 42C (108F). Schools and colleges will be shut for at least until 27 April. This is the second year in a row that authorities made such a move due to extreme weather.

It follows school closures in the Philippines and India as a persistent heatwave sweeps across Asia.

"Children in Bangladesh are among the poorest in the world, and heat-related school closures should ring alarm bells for us all," said Shumon Sengupta, Save the Children's Bangladesh director.

The country's weather authorities issued its fourth heat alert for the month on Thursday.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) has announced that a severe heatwave is sweeping over the Khulna division and several districts including Dinajpur, Nilphamari, Rajshahi, Pabna, Faridpur, and Gopalganj, starting at 9am on Thursday.

Additionally, a mild to moderate heat wave is affecting the Barishal division and parts of the Rangpur, Rajshahi, and Dhaka divisions, as well as the districts of Mymensingh, Moulvibazar, Rangamati, Chandpur, Noakhali, Feni, and Bandarban. These conditions are expected to persist.

The forecast also includes rain or thunder showers accompanied by temporary gusty or squally winds, likely to occur at one or two places over the Chattogram and Sylhet divisions, with isolated hailstorms.

Elsewhere in the country, the weather is expected to remain mainly dry, with temporary partly cloudy skies. Day and night temperatures are anticipated to stay nearly unchanged nationwide. Increased moisture incursion is likely to sustain the discomfort caused by the heat.

Low-lying Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 30- to 45-cm rise in sea level could displace more than 35 million people from coastal districts - about a quarter of the country's total population.

On Wednesday, thousands of Muslims in the country gathered in mosques and rural fields to pray for rain. Bangladesh's weather authorities expect the extreme heat to continue for at least another week. Hospitals and clinics have been asked to prepare for a higher patient load due to heat-related illnesses such as fever and headache. Patients suffering from heatstroke will be admitted in air-conditioned wards, Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen said earlier this week.

Unicef has warned that more than 243 million children across East Asia and the Pacific are at risk of heat-related illnesses and death. Unusually high temperatures pose "grave risks" particularly to newborns and infants, as they are less able to regulate their body temperatures than adults, the agency said.

Hospitals across Khulna are struggling to accommodate an influx of patients as a severe heatwave continues to affect the region.

Key healthcare facilities, including Khulna Medical College Hospital, Khulna Sadar Hospital, Khulna Children's Hospital, and Khulna Infectious Disease Hospital, have reached full capacity, forcing patients to occupy floors, corridors, and even stairways due to a lack of available beds.

The situation is particularly dire at the government-run Khulna Infectious Disease Hospital located in Mirerdanga, where the number of diarrheal patients has alarmingly increased.

With no paediatric specialists or consultants available, children suffering from diarrhoea are being deprived of adequate medical care, putting significant strain on their families.

Despite sufficient supplies of medicine and saline, the hospital faces a critical shortage of medical staff, nurses, and ward boys, compounded by its deteriorating infrastructure.

From the beginning of the month, a sharp rise in cases of vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea has been reported.

As of April 24, the hospital has admitted over 350 diarrheal patients, with an additional 10 to 15 patients seeking outpatient care daily.

The hospital, designed with only 20 beds, has 10 allocated for diarrheal patients. The number of beds for diarrheal patients has been increased to 14 through the efforts of the acting officer.

However, there are no separate wards for males and females, nor any cabins.

At Khulna Children's Hospital, the situation has worsened further.

Al-Amin Rakib, an administrative officer at the hospital, reported that while the outpatient department previously handled around 400 patients daily, the figure has surged to 700 to 800 children over the last week.

Despite having 275 beds, the hospital is currently accommodating twice as many patients suffering from fever, colds, and diarrhoea.

A distressed father, Rahim Sheikh, from Botiaghata, shared his ordeal of his three-year-old daughter Anika suffering from diarrhoea due to the heat.

Having arrived at the hospital at 8am, he had yet to see a doctor by late morning. The director of Khulna Medical College Hospital, Dr Husain Shafayat, echoed the severity of the situation, stating the hospital was operating at three times its capacity with no space left to admit new patients.

As the heatwave shows no signs of relenting, the healthcare crisis in Khulna continues to escalate, with medical facilities urgently requiring additional resources and support to manage the overwhelming patient load.

The previous longest continued heat wave lasted for 23 days back in 2019. But the BMD already reported the feat on Thursday.

"In 2019, 23 days of two months-April and May-were for sweeping mild to moderate heatwaves. This year, April alone reached exactly 23 days of mild to moderate heatwave, meaning April has broken the record for prolonged month of heatwave," said Meteorologist Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik.

"This ongoing heatwave will continue despite some areas near border areas witnessing little rainfall," he said.

"Due to increasing moisture incursion, the discomfort may increase," he warned, saying: "In the next five days, this intense heat wave may exceed the previous record."

The meteorologist said he is not sure whether the heatwave will weaken after that.

"It is feared that this situation may continue till next month," he added.

The Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS), which is measuring the temperature of different places in Dhaka, has found many global, regional, and local reasons for the sizzling heat.

CAPS Chairman Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder said: "One of the reasons for the excessive heat in Bangladesh is that it is losing cooling factors as warming factors increase."

Other than blaming mindless and unplanned urbanisation, carbon emissions, and deforestation, he pointed out the use of glass-made buildings as another major reason for the heatwave.

The month of April has become the hottest month so far in Bangladesh by breaking all records of 75 years.

Dr Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik, a seasoned meteorologist working at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) said: "Met Office has been collecting data on increasing temperature since 1948 . . . April already has been the hottest month for breaking all record of 75 years".

"In 2019, 23 days of two months - - April and May -- were for sweeping mild to moderate heatwave. This year, April alone reached exactly 23 days of mild to moderate heatwave meaning April has broken the record for prolonged month of heatwave," he added.

"This ongoing heatwave will continue despite some areas near border areas witnessing little rainfall," the meteorologist said.

The entire country is reeling under the first spell of severe heatwave since the first week of the current month and the ongoing heatwave will persist throughout the next month.

"The Met Office issued heat alert on April 3 and it has extended the heat alert as Bangladesh is likely to experience prolonged heatwave compared to the past of couple of years," Shahnaz Sultana, a meteorologist of Bangladesh Meteorologist Department (BMD), told BSS recently.

According to officials of different hospitals, lack of expected downpour lingers the nationwide heat wave, triggering an apparent health problem with an increased number of people reporting to hospitals with high fever, diarrhoea, pneumonia and sunstroke every day.

Record heatwaves have forced healthcare facilities to take emergency measures to provide medical services to patients with heat-related illnesses as the entire country is reeling under extreme heatwave since the beginning of April.

"Large numbers of people are becoming ill with heatstroke, dehydration, exhaustion and breathing problems and they are suffering from other heat-related diseases as the country witnessed record-breaking temperatures through the month of April," Director of Mugda Medical College and Hospital Dr Md Niatuzzaman told BSS on Thursday.

"Under the directive of the health minister, we have taken special measures for the patients linked to heat-related disease a significant number of people are coming to Mugda hospital to take treatment after becoming sick due to on-going heatwave," he added.

Children and elderly people are suffering from different heat-related diseases, said Niatuzzaman, adding: "We have taken special initiatives to treat children and elderly people as they are the most vulnerable during this prolonged hot weather"

Identical pictures of heat-related illness are also seen in other hospitals and healthcare facilities including Shishu Hospital, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital and the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).

Spokespersons of these hospitals said since the first week of April, patients with heat-related health complications have been visiting doctors to get treatment and some of them got admission with critical illnesses caused by severe heatwave.

A K M Tariful Islam Khan, spokesperson of the icddr,b, said: "Nearly, 500 diarrhoea patients have been admitted to the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b). A significant number of patients are getting admission to icddr,b daily".

Although this admission figure of diarrhoea patients is normal but he dubbed abnormal hot weather is the main reason for the water-borne disease, he added.

Immediate past director of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital Dr Khalilur Rahman suggested the people to take precautionary measures including wearing weather-suitable clothes, avoiding external exposure during day time to protect themselves from heatstroke and taking rest after one or two hours during working period.

He also urged the people to have liquid food, particularly coconut water, lemon juice and safe drinking water as the human body suffers massively from dehydration due to excessive hot weather.

Khalilur said: "During the sweeping of heatwave, body temperature increases alarmingly, which may cause fainting of the people. People are fainted and heatstroke as our brain does not absorb high temperature as it (brain) has maximum capacity to tolerate body temperature".

As the country has been experiencing a severe heatwave since the beginning of April, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has issued four-point guidelines recently to prevent heatstroke and other heat-related diseases.

The guidelines include staying away from intense heat, take rest under shadow, drinking plenty of safe water, avoiding street food and drinks, wearing loose, thin and light coloured clothes and visit doctors, if any symptoms such as stopping of sweating, nausea, severe headache, increased body temperature, decreased appetite, burning sensation, convulsions and fainting are shown during this hot weather.

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