Scores die in relentless heatwave

The death toll from a near unprecedented heatwave in Burma is rising as the government warns against exertion and consumption of alcohol.

Temperatures in some parts of the country have risen to 47C at a time when Burma is suffering from a severe water shortage and frequent power cuts. Residents in multi-storey buildings say they cannot pump already depleted water supplies to their apartments, while fans and air-conditioning are often inoperable.

Kyaw Thu, a well-known actor and director of the charity group, Free Funeral Service Society, said the number of funerals the group is conducting has risen from 50 to around 70 each day.

“There have been a lot of deaths due to the heat, including those of painter Than Myint Aung and the wife of writer and director Tin Than Oo,” he said.

State-run newspapers on Friday reported that seven of 11 patients submitted to Taungdwingyi hospital in Magwe division earlier this month with heat-related illnesses have died. An official at the Mandalay General Hospital told DVB under condition of anonymity that 12 of the 20 patients with similar conditions had died.

An official from Magwe’s Seittathuka funeral charity said the group said that a number of the heat victims were drinkers. “Also deaths are common when people take a shower and soak themselves in cold water [immediately after staying out in the heat], as well as among elderly people.”

Water sources are also low; Burma has in recent weeks been hit by a major water crisis resulting from the heatwave and increasing damming of rivers. The shortage has affected major towns in Sagaing, Bago and Irrawaddy divisions, and now Rangoon is suffering.

One Rangoon resident told DVB last week that locals were being forced to manage water “like oil” given its growing scarcity.

A Taungdwingyi resident said that wells in some parts of the town had dried out, and people were dying from heatstroke. “Recently, three sisters in Nyaungbinhla village died after sleeping without clothes on when they couldn’t bear the heat. A man also died after bathing the dead body of his brother [who had died from heatstroke],” he said.

Burma’s health ministry has recently issued a warning to people to follow preventative measures, such as avoiding taking showers straight away after coming in from the heat.

Citizens are also being urged not to drink alcohol and wear protective clothing when outdoors. The elderly and children have been told to stay out of the direct sunlight.

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