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Asian economies feel the heat from extreme weather

Region faces brewing crisis as costs from damage continue to mount

A Vietnamese man surveys the damage to his home caused by tropical storm Son Tinh at a village outside Hanoi on July 24.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Abnormal weather in the form of severe rainfall and heat waves has been taking a heavy toll on Asia recently, both in human and economic terms.

In Vietnam, floods caused by torrential downpours on July 18 left more than 30 dead, while a dam collapsed in southern Laos on July 23 after heavy rains, resulting in hundreds missing and more than 6,600 displaced.

Both disasters underscore the significance of unexpected weather in the region. Vietnam had already sustained losses of 60 trillion dong ($2.58 billion) from floods and other natural disasters in 2017, up 50% from the previous year, according to government data. The destroyed dam in Laos was part of the five-year, $1 billion Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project -- involving Laotian, Thai and South Korean companies -- and will most likely need to be rebuilt, straining government coffers.

The World Meteorological Organization said at a news conference on July 24 that heat waves are spreading worldwide, warning that the extreme weather will continue for some time. This has prompted experts to call for coordinated measures on a global, regional and national basis to counter the crisis.

Indians carry umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun in New Delhi on July 8.   © Hindustan Times via Getty Images

On July 23, Japan experienced a record-high temperature of 41.1 C in Kumagaya, a city near Tokyo. According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, hospitals treated 22,647 people over the preceding week for heatstroke -- the most in a decade -- with 65 dying from heat-related illnesses.

Floods and landslides swept the western part of the country earlier this month, leaving the government with a 270 billion yen ($2.44 billion) bill to rebuild areas destroyed by the disasters.

Unusually hot weather is also affecting South Korea, with temperatures soaring above 37 C in many regions. Korea Electric Power Corp. blamed the blistering conditions for blackouts affecting thousands of households in Seoul and Busan as air conditioner usage skyrocketed.

The heat is forecast to remain through at least next week. To meet increased electricity demand, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Kepco, will be restarting two nuclear power plants in August that were being repaired.

Crops in the country have been hard hit, driving up prices for vegetables such as Napa cabbages and radishes, two key ingredients of South Korea's staple kimchi. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, cabbage prices jumped 27.9% to 2,652 won ($2.4) each in mid-July from the previous year, while radishes soared 43.7% to 1,450 won in the same period.

China has not been spared, either. Beijing experienced its first typhoon in 13 years on July 23, with reports of flooding throughout the city and the cancellation of 86 flights from Beijing Capital Airport. This comes on the heels of massive flood relief in west China, where Sichuan province sustained 2.4 billion yuan ($351 million) in damages and Gansu Province 1.47 billion yuan.

The government has allocated 170 million yuan for disaster assistance in the two provinces.

In India, the city of Kolkata endured its highest June temperature for about the last 13 years as the mercury hit 40.6 C -- about 7 C above the norm for the month.

Discarded household items litter a road in flood-affected regions of western Japan on July 13.

The country's junior home affairs minister Kiren Rijiju informed Parliament on July 24 that heat has claimed 3,560 lives across the country since 2015, with 2,389 deaths in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh alone.

According to a World Bank report, rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns could cost India 2.8% of GDP by 2050.

Inclement weather is also threatening the textile industry in Pakistan, where April temperatures hit 50.2 C, seriously lowering water levels for irrigation of the country's cotton crops.

Other parts of the world are also feeling the heat. Morocco and Algeria recorded all-time highs of 43.4 C and 51.3 C, respectively, while searing winds have fueled wildfires in Greece, killing more than 70. In the Canadian province of Quebec, daytime temperatures have been stuck above 35 C and are believed to be responsible for 90 deaths.

Although there is no consensus as to what is behind the unusual weather, the WMO noted that it is related to global warming resulting from an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

International efforts are underway to fight global warming, but some countries have yet to fall in line, most notably the U.S., where President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Meanwhile, a number of emerging economies refuse to cut emissions, fearing that doing so could hinder their development and that developed countries are mainly to blame for the problem.

This does not bode well for handling what is fast becoming a global crisis, as the heat waves, heavy rains and other abnormal weather conditions are expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

Kim Jaewon in Seoul, Kiran Sharma in New Delhi, Naoki Asanuma in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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