Temperature and humidity together to play foul with lives

Dhaka,  Tue,  19 September 2017
Published : 06 Aug 2017, 20:16:33
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OPINION

Temperature and humidity together to play foul with lives

If the US administration turns its back to the Paris agreement on climate change, the dire prospect for people in the subcontinent will become a reality. If Trump shifts his position and adheres to the earlier one his predecessor so candidly agreed to go by, people in this part of the world will be spared an ominous fate, writes Neil Ray
If the majority of people have heard of climate change, few are expected to come across wet bulb temperature. This in short is the measure of humidity in atmosphere. The measurement that a thermometer gives when it is wrapped by a wet cloth is called wet bulb temperature. Naturally wet bulb temperature is lower than the dry bulb temperature. It shows to what extent water evaporates. 

The crucial point is to know how much wet bulb temperature humans can tolerate. Usually 31 degree centigrade is considered extremely hazardous for humans although 35°C is the maximum tolerable limit. So mere global warming is not just a cause for serious concern, it is the humidity of air on which depends survivability of people. The densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins, according to a study carried out by a team of scientists led by former MIT scientist Eun-Soon Im, are likely to be the worst sufferers of the wet bulb temperature. Home to 1.5 billion people, the region covers vast swathes of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

What is new about this study published in the Science Advances on Wednesday, August 2 last, is that unlike mere temperature projections by most studies this one considers humidity and the body's ability to cool down. Humans can survive a wet bulb temperature of up to 35°C. But beyond that level the body has difficulty sweating or sweat does not evaporate with the result of its no cooling down. At that point heat stroke occurs leading at times to the victims' death. 

Now the study makes the dire projection that one third of the Indo-Gangetic plain may face such extreme hot and humid conditions within decades. By 2100, four per cent of the population or 60 million people may face 35°C or more wet bulb temperature . Naturally, farm workers and outdoor construction labourers are most at risk. The aspect of humidity is going to decide the fate of a large number of people in the region. Will this not affect agriculture in the Indo-Gangetic plain? There is every possibility of this. Heat strokes can attack people even in homes and under shed if there is no cooling system like fans or air conditioning. 

However, the researchers say, such a dreadful prospect can be avoided if the world community can limit the global temperature rise to 2°C above the pre-industrial level. Already there has been a rise of 1°C in the temperature of the Earth. So the option is clear: temperature must not be allowed to cross another 1°C by any means. In that case risk exposure declines drastically. About two per cent of the population in the region will face 31°C wet bulb temperature. 

To arrest the global temperature to that level, however, the nations across the world will not be required to go some extra miles. All they will have to do is comply with the Paris climate agreement goals. Much will depend on how Donald Trump's America behaves in the years to come. If the US administration turns its back to the Paris agreement on climate change, the dire prospect for people in the subcontinent will become a reality. If he shifts his position and adheres to the earlier one his predecessor so candidly agreed to go by, people in this part of the world will be spared an ominous fate.     



 
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