Bangladesh closes schools and cuts electricity due to worst heat wave in decades

Bangladesh has closed thousands of schools due to the worst heat wave in half a century, and widespread power outages have only exacerbated the suffering of local residents.

Temperatures in the South Asian nation’s capital Dhaka soared to around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) as the poor suffered from the scorching sun.

“We have never seen such a prolonged heatwave since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971,” said Bazlur Rashid, a senior official at Bangladesh’s meteorological department.

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The government has closed tens of thousands of elementary schools, and power generation has plummeted even as demand for air conditioners and fans soared.

On Monday, the country was forced to shut down its largest power plant because the government could not afford the coal to fuel it.

The Bangladeshi taka depreciated about 25 percent against the US dollar last year, pushing up the cost of fuel and utility imports.

Other factories were unable to keep up with demand, leading to many hours of power outages.

“Sick” in Bangladesh

Housewife Tanya Akhter said her youngest child is resting at home with classes canceled and her 12-year-old daughter still attends school.

“These classes should also be closed because the students are suffering a lot from this heat – they are getting sick,” Akhter said.

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The heat wave began in April and continued until early May before easing before resuming late last month, with forecasters predicting the mercury column will remain high through the end of the week.

“Every summer in Bangladesh it gets hot, but this year the heat is unusual,” Rashid told AFP. “In the past, heatwaves lasted only a few days or a week, but this year they have lasted two weeks or more.”

A study last month by the World Weather Attribution team found that climate change has made record deadly heatwaves in Bangladesh, as well as India, Laos and Thailand, at least 30 times more likely.

On June 3, temperatures in the northern district of Dinajpur reached 41.3 degrees Celsius (106.3 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest reading since 1958.

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“In the past, heatwaves have only affected certain parts of the country,” Rashid added. “This year it is very extensive and has spread to almost all parts of the country.”

Power outages in some rural areas last between six and ten hours a day, according to the state power company.

Income down

Workers and street vendors say it’s hard to work in the heat, and those who can stay at home away from the sun see their incomes drop.

“My income has dropped significantly; I used to make 20-30 trips a day, now it’s 10-15,” said Abdul Mannan, a 60-year-old auto rickshaw driver.

“My body doesn’t allow more than this in this heat.”

“It drains all your energy,” said fellow driver Raisoul Islam, 35, as he sipped a lime sherbet drink at a roadside stall in Dhaka. “It’s hard to drive rickshaws in the scorching heat.”

Rashid from the meteorological department said the heat wave would subside as soon as the monsoon rains began in mid-June, while the government said electricity production would increase in two weeks once fuel imports arrived.

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Heat-worn fruit vendor Mohammad Manik, 31, said he was seeing fewer buyers due to high temperatures and was just waiting for the weather to change.

“The situation in this heat is very bad – I spend my day here at work, and when I get home, the electricity goes out,” he said.

“So I can’t sleep well, being awake most of the night.”