A city in Pakistan has just recorded what reports are describing as the hottest-ever April day on the planet, with thermometers rising to 50.2°C.

Local reports described deserted streets and multiple cases of severe heat stroke on April 30 in Nawabshah, a city about 130 km northeast of Karachi with about 1.1 million inhabitants.

The record reading followed a heatwave in March. And there are fears that residents may desert the town altogether when summer comes.

Record temperatures in many different places have been observed over several decades, as a result of climate change.

This graph from NASA illustrates the change in global surface temperature relative to 1951-1980 average temperatures. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year record have all occurred since 2001, while 2016 ranks as the warmest.

Image: NASA

These rises are especially problematic for parts of the world that already suffer extreme heat.

“The challenge is that they are now reaching dangerous levels for humans and many other animals,” explains Emily Farnworth, Head of Climate Change Initiatives at the World Economic Forum.

Last year, Pakistan was ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change.

And it must now find strategies to adapt to the rising heat.

Hurting the weak and vulnerable

A report in the English-language newspaper Dawn said the unbearable heat in Nawabshah forced people to remain indoors throughout the day, roads and markets appeared deserted and business activities came to a halt.

While one day of inactivity may not seem disastrous, there are now more very hot days occurring each year. And that can have significant implications for productivity over the longer term.

It also puts pressure on local health services. On April 30, many people in Nawabshah were treated for heat stroke.

Residents of Nawabshah were advised to put wet towels on their heads
Image: REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Heat-related deaths, especially among the weak and vulnerable, also become more frequent. For example, a heatwave in Karachi in 2015 killed 1,300 people.

Temperature rises can also have a profound impact on crops and agricultural work, as well as the resilience of critical infrastructure such as transport networks.

This means that, in addition to the battle to prevent global warming, we will need to find new methods to survive and cope with extreme weather.

“The technologies for emissions mitigation to get climate change under control are available and need to be scaled, but it is equally critical to accelerate technologies and solutions that will support climate resilience so that communities can adapt to increasing and extreme temperatures,” Farnworth says.

Finding safer homes

A recent World Bank report on the impact of climate change predicts that rising temperatures and sea levels could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050.

Internal migration to avoid the worst-hit areas is a valid option, according to World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva.

“It’s important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable,” she says.

The World Bank says cities need to plan for new arrivals, providing opportunities for education, training and jobs.

It also says the entire cycle of climate migration should be incorporated into development planning, and that more data is needed to foresee the trends that are to come.

But such planning and wide-scale adaptation needs significant investment.

And Pakistan is still awaiting the international funding it needs to move forward under its National Adaptation Plan.

If the sweltering spring heat turns into a long, hot summer, those funds will become even more crucial.