HARESH SAYS: Despite hot past, we don’t seem to feel the heat

As published in Malay Mail today

By Haresh Deol

WATER gushed from the hose, splashing against the metallic silver car.

Mr T was proud of his ride as he washed it almost every other day. I waved, while cringing inside, as I walked past him. To him, the wave was a signal to speak.

“Wah, what’s happening in Terengganu? Menteri besar stripped of titles? Not too long ago, it was the Kedah menteri besar fiasco.” he said.

He continued: “What you think of Sarawak? Time to ubah (change).”

He had asked questions but was clearly not interested in knowing the answer.

I smiled and told him we would chat soon. I genuinely had to rush. While all this was going on, water continued to flow out of the hose and onto his car. That two minutes saw at least three pails, if not more, of water wasted.

If only he paid more attention to our weather than politics.

Environmentalists and non-governmental organisations have repeatedly warned about a looming water crisis, as the hot weather has resulted in water resources depleting, and how this will impact the economy.

We should have prepared for it, having experienced a similar situation in 1998 and 2014.  But we clearly have not learnt.

How much do we know about El Nino besides it being hot?

It is due to this prolonged heat — which the government now warns could last until September — that we are seeing rivers and lakes dry up, a surge of heatstroke cases and more forest fires.

When reserves are low, water rationing will naturally kick in. Many industries and businesses will be affected, along with millions of consumers who have been enjoying treated water just by turning on the tap at home. It is a double whammy for farmers and those in the agriculture sector as the heat and lack of water have resulted in their crops and animals dying.

Images of pregnant women and the elderly struggling to carry pails of water come to mind if water supply is disrupted. Traders and businesses that rely heavily on water will see lower productivity, resulting in losses. Mind you, this year has not been an economically exciting year.

The hot and dry spell has seen a number of forest fires breaking out — as evident at the Kuala Langat Forest Reserve. The Kuala Langat Fire and Rescue Department has been unable to tackle the fires since it broke out on March 31 and has requested for back up. Even our firefighters are feeling the heat.

Our lifestyle changes. Many now prefer staying indoors. Some may join gymnasiums but others will think twice. Given the rising cost of living, many would rather spend their money on daily essentials and sacrifice exercising. More people are getting sick.

There are some of us, despite working in air-conditioned offices, still feel uncomfortable and sweaty. Now spare a thought for those who work outdoors and children who continue to wear blazers and ties to schools as they sit in classrooms equipped with old ceiling fans.

I wish we could wear shorts to work and set up inflatable pools in offices for those who need to cool down.

Studies have shown extreme weather patterns have an adverse effect on a country’s economy.
Australian National University’s Paul Burke said the heat can affect our willingness to work, and how much we get done when we are there.

“There is international evidence that very hot weather is bad news for economic growth. Labour supply, productivity and agricultural output are among the indicators that can take a hit,” he said, as quoted by Australian news website news.com.au last year.

A paper published by Nature Climate Change last May revealed heat stress probably cost the Australian economy nearly A$7 billion (RM21.12 billion) in 2013-2014 through productivity losses.

The study also showed from the 1,726 Australians sampled randomly, seven per cent did not go to work on at least one day in the previous 12 months because of heat stress. Seventy per cent went to work but thought they were less efficient.

On average, people were less productive at work because they felt heat-stressed on 10 days per year and cumulatively lost about 27 hours per year.

UK-based research firm Verisk Maplecroft, had in its report last year, said Southeast Asia could lose 16 per cent of its labour capacity over the next three decades due to rising heat stress.

The company had then predicted Singapore and Malaysia would suffer big losses in productivity (25 per cent and 24 per cent respectively) compared to other nations in the region.

Journals and studies have warned us months, if not years, ago about the effects of hot weather. We should have educated the masses and make them understand what El Nino is all about and how it affects them.

The federal and state governments should have started sourcing for alternative water following the 1998 water crisis and create a comfortable working environment as global temperatures continue to rise annually.

The state authorities should have started monitoring water consumption and penalise those who waste water when the water levels at dams hit 50 per cent. Schools and companies should allow students and employees to wear comfortable yet respectful attire given the hot conditions.

Why do we wait until the eleventh hour and only then press the panic button?

Yes, Mr T, it is time to ubah — by changing our mindset when it comes to understanding the weather and appreciating water. We must ensure the heat does not melt our spirit and the economy.

Haresh is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol


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