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Heat wave kills 100 in Myanmar, mostly infants and elderly

A man cycles past a facade with rows of air conditioners on a hot summer afternoon. In cities that are already scorching hot, temperatures and humidity levels are rising to levels that the human body simply can’t tolerate, researchers warn. (The United States Institute of Peace/Released)
May 21, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Scorching temperatures killed about 100 people in central Myanmar in just four days, social aid groups told Radio Free Asia on Monday.

In the Sagaing region’s Monywa township, heat-related illnesses have killed people as young as one month but it is the sick and elderly who are most at risk, aid workers and residents said.

“The death toll rose sharply. It’s a pity that babies were among those deaths. Some were just four or five months old,” an official from the Thukha Hita blood donation and funeral assistance group told RFA. 

“There were up to 29 bodies yesterday …  in two cemeteries in Monywa town,” said the group official, who declined to be identified for safety reasons.

The extreme heat from Thursday to Sunday largely affected sick and elderly people, said one resident assisting those in need, adding that Saturday and Sunday were the worst days.

“They can’t stand the heat at all,” said the resident, referring to the sick and old. “It’s so terrible that even we, young people, can’t survive. The power outages haven’t helped.”

Two Monywa-based organizations, Yone Gyi Lu Nge social assistance association and Thukha Hita blood donor association and funeral assistance, are helping to cremate the bodies to keep up with the rise in deaths.  

RFA telephoned the Sagaing region’s junta spokesperson, Nyunt Win Aung, for more information about the situation but he did not answer.

The junta’s Ministry of Health spokesperson, Than Naing Soe, told RFA the ministry was organizing heat-stroke prevention awareness and treatment but he declined to comment further.

According to the military’s weather agency, the highest temperature in Monywa city was recorded on Friday, reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

Some families are opting to stay in hotels to escape the heat because of the unreliable, or even non-existent, power supplies, residents said. Numerous people had sought treatment in clinics and hospitals for heatstroke and dehydration, they added.

Myanmar has seen extreme temperatures throughout this year’s hot season, killing as many as 40 people per day in early May. In Rakhine State in western Myanmar, severe water shortages have affected 50 villages and killed more than  80 people.

Temperatures usually cool down a bit in May and June with the arrival of the rains.