For the past month, South Asia has been home to some of the most extreme weather on the planet. Pakistan set an all-time world heat record for April, and India was bombarded by violent dust storms. Now another heat wave is rocking the region, killing at least 65 people in Karachi.
Temperatures in the city of 15 million reached 44 degrees Celsius (111.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday and could stay in that range for the rest of the week. Though it’s less certain, models are showing that the heat could get even worse 10 days out. Atmospheric scientist Ryan Maue tweeted that the European weather model shows temperatures could climb as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the month. The city’s maze of concrete streets and houses can act as a heat island, trapping all that warmth, and making local temperatures even hotter.
That’s terrible news for a region already suffering in the deadly heat. According to the New York Times, local authorities have warned people to avoid going outdoors. The heat wave also coincides with Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Power outages are also roiling the city, reducing the time people can find time to cool off in front of air conditioners (which are themselves luxuries).
The fasting coupled with extreme heat can be a dangerous combination, weakening the body and making it more susceptible to heat-related illness. According to The Guardian, most of those who have died in the heat so far are from poorer, working-class neighborhoods, and include children and the elderly. All are among the groups most susceptible to extreme heat.
Extreme heat waves have become a recurring feature in South Asia in recent years. In April, a weather station there recorded what was likely the hottest April temperature ever recorded anywhere on Earth. Hot, dry weather also lead to deadly dust storms in India earlier this month. In 2015, heat waves killed at least 1,000 people in Karachi and up to 2,000 people in India in May and June respectively.
These heat waves are a warning of what could come next for the region. Research published last year in Science Advances shows that extreme heat is likely to get worse in the region as the climate changes. The research focused on wet bulb temperature, which measures heat and humidity. The study identified a wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) as the “upper limit on human survivability in a natural (not air-conditioned) environment.” The results show that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory, parts of South Asia could become uninhabitable at certain times of the year.