Sri Lanka usually is one of the hottest countries in the world because of its location near the
equator. Sri Lanka is a small, tropical island. Typically, March to May and August to October
are hot months in Sri Lanka. The average temperature on these days is around 30°C.  The
highest temperature recorded in Sri Lanka from 1949 to 2023 was September 2012 from
Trincomalee. It was 39.5°C. This year, the heat in Sri Lanka is intolerable for the
environment and its life. From March this year to August, daily, the temperature is around
35°C in most districts continuously.

As a heat wave sweeps across Asia, Sri Lanka continues to issue heat warnings to the public
as the country experiences much higher than normal temperatures coupled with high
humidity and threatening health impacts. Dr. Shiromani Jayawardena who is the director
(forecasting) of the Department of Meteorology said that the hot weather was a combination
of high humidity and temperature levels, causing extreme discomfort, sweat and thirst for
people, and even animals. The scorching sun rays due to the sun being directly above the
country and lack of wind were also contributing factors. This year’s warm temperatures are
not limited to Sri Lanka, with neighboring India reporting deaths from extreme heat and other
countries experiencing higher temperatures.

El-Nino and La-Nina are opposite climate conditions in the Pacific Ocean that affect the
global climate. Dr. Shiromani Jayawardena said that during the previous years, we did not
feel the heat due to the La-Nina condition that caused the temperature in surrounding oceans
to be below normal resulting in lower global temperatures. However, this June, the El-Nino
condition is setting in, triggering warmer temperatures globally. This will bring more warmer
months to our country unless we get heavy monsoon rains.

Sri Lankans are now experiencing more warm nights compared with cold nights.
A study found that annually averaged mean minimum temperatures are increasing, reducing
the gap between maximum and minimum temperatures. Temperatures in Sri Lanka have been
rising faster than the global average at about 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.24 degrees Fahrenheit)
per decade.

Over the last century, global temperatures have risen by approximately 0.8 to 1.3°C
compared to pre-industrial times, mostly as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions.
Temperatures are projected to rise even further and cause serious climatic changes across the
world, including extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functionality,
and sea level rise (IPCC, 2021/2022). Apart from these short- and long-term impacts, the
increase in temperature itself can negatively affect human health and wellbeing via a variety
of mechanisms, including heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, chronic dehydration,
an increase in vector-borne infections, and malnutrition. It is now beyond doubt that global
warming has increased the number of heat waves experienced around the world. The adverse
impacts of climate change and heat waves on weather patterns, crops, and livestock have
been demonstrated and researched extensively.

Urban areas more impacted
Dense urban areas experience higher temperatures day and night relative to outlying areas. In
cities where there is a heavy concentration of buildings and other surfaces such as roads and
pavements which absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat, people are being asked to be extra
vigilant about heat-related illnesses such as respiratory difficulties, and heat exhaustion.
A heat advisory was issued for the Western, North Western, Northern, North Central and
Eastern provinces and Monaragala and Hambantota districts. These areas will come under ‘caution’ levels in the ‘heat index’ (temperature felt on the human body) between 39 and 45
degrees Celsius.

Health impacts
The most vulnerable people to this excessive heat are the elderly, infants and children,
pregnant women, outdoor and manual workers in hot and poorly-ventilated areas, athletes,
and people experiencing poverty. People with long-term health conditions like heart disease,
respiratory disease, and diabetes may also suffer. People on certain types of medication such
as antihistamines (allergy medication) and antipsychotic medication should take care and
consult their doctors in order to ensure that this medication will not affect them during heat
waves. Visitors from overseas who are not acclimatized to the heat must take extra precaution
to stay cool and hydrated throughout. 
Heat exhaustion is pervasive among people in hot seasons. Typically, dizziness can occur as
signs of heat exhaustion, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, headache,
fainting, paleness, and fast or weak pulse.

Heat impact on biodiversity
Not only humans but animals, plants and ecosystems should brace for the inevitable impacts
from increased heat stress. The impact would be more for smaller animals; for example, it is
estimated that a small increase in temperature could wipe out some insects and sensitive
animals. However, corals may be the most impacted by such heat stress, as higher ocean
temperatures can make corals bleach and die. May and June are the months when corals get
bleached due to increased temperature resulting from extreme heat. These delicate organisms
get severely impacted by heat stress.
With the prevailing dry weather conditions in Sri Lanka, authorities have noticed an increase
in forest fires. The State Minister said that with the prevailing dry weather, forest fire
incidents have increased due to deliberate or careless human activities and such actions are
also likely to occur due to camping groups. Therefore, he said that everyone should pay more
attention to taking preemptive measures to prevent such destruction of forests.
There can be indirect effects as well. With the hot weather, people have started using more
power to cool their workplaces and houses. With the increased demand, more power should be generated. Hence, there will be an indirect increase in greenhouse gases which paves the
way to intensifying climate change.

How to avoid the health risks caused by Heatwaves
Daily, the meteorological department releases announcements on the high-temperature level,
affecting many districts, and health instructions are given by the Department of Health. The
Met Office urged people to refrain from exerting themselves outdoors, to stay hydrated and
wear light coloured, light cotton clothing. Children should not be left unattended and in
The Health Promotion Bureau this week advised Sri Lankans to avoid being outdoors from
11:00 am to 3:00 pm, though the temperature in the environment is around 35°C, the human
body feels like it is 39°C to 45°C and that an adult should drink at least 2.5 liters of water a
day. Consultant nutritionists said apart from drinking water, people should consume Vitamin
C rich juices as well. Everyone should avoid soft drinks, alcohol, caffeine, and hot drinks as
much as possible.
However, main cities record higher temperatures acting as urban heat islands and experts
suggest that town planning should now include strategies to reduce heat as an adaptation for
impending future heat stresses. The plants are nature’s air purifiers, as their evaporation adds
water vapor to the atmosphere. But urban areas are rapidly losing greenery, making them
unhealthy and uncomfortable to live in, therefore re-greening cities should become a priority,
so the air will get naturally cool.





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