Thailand faced very high temperatures this last April. It is well known that the major factor behind this hot weather is the sun being directly overhead during the April- May period.
Bangkok is a city that experiences problems during hot weather spells such as these. Besides the seasonal and geographical factors, the phenomenon of "Urban Heat Island" is another factor that makes Bangkok extremely hot.
The urban heat island phenomenon is caused by the heat generated from the activities in the city. It involves hot air covering the city and blocking cool air from the surrounding areas which results in the urban air temperatures being higher than in the sub-urban areas.
This phenomenon can be extended indefinitely by the size of the city and heat-causing activities such as the buildings and houses in the city that are built of concrete, with the ability to absorb heat that is two times less than water. The proportion of green space in the city is another important factor that affects the phenomenon. There are only 30 km2 of green space in Bangkok (3.3 m²/person) and those areas are not enough to absorb the urban heat. Moreover, the habits of the Bangkok people, such as the over use of air conditioners and heat from car engines, with around 1 million cars running on the streets of the city, have also contributed significantly to higher air temperatures.
This phenomenon is not new has not just started happening in Bangkok. However, there is no concrete resolve to tackle it as the problem is not discussed or publicized widely. It is often mentioned during the summer but the public will then forget about it and pay attention to new things once the summer has passed.
Hot weather affects people seriously, especially their health in cases such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and sunburn. The government often issues declarations about the need for people to take care of themselves in order to cope with the heat, such as regularly drinking enough water, avoiding the sun light in the midday, and wearing comfortable clothes and applying sunscreen.
It's good that the government has issued these warnings to the public, but the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the central government should take measures to prevent and reduce the heat in the city through steps such as passing legislation to protect workers who have to work outdoors, regulating the timing of the outdoor workers in the summer, implementing a building code regarding construction materials that reflect less heat, campaigning to reduce the usage of air conditioning, reducing the number of cars in the city, and increasing green spaces and so on. In addition, there should be an ongoing public awareness. These measures will lead to a concrete and sustainable solutions.
Data from the Bureau of Non Communicable Diseases, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Health, identified that, during the 10-year period from 2004 to 2014, there were 196 people who died from heat stroke. The people who are vulnerable to hot weather are as follows:
(1) People who work or engage in activities outdoors such as construction laborers, farmers and athletes
(2) Children under 5 years and the elderly
(3) People with chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke victims and those with high blood pressure
(4) People who are overweight
(5) People who lack sleep and
(6) Consumers of alcohol