Come March and man and earth alike seem parched and dry, under the sweltering heat of an unrelenting sun. Stepping out after 8 am has us all sweating profusely and scurrying for a patch of shade, and any respite from the blazing heat. Distances have never seemed as much and the cool air-conditioned comfort of offices, never more welcome. This continues through the months of april and early May, with a brief respite during the week long thingyan break when playing with water and all else that comes with the water festival. The monsoons are by now eagerly awaited, and the wait for the rain Gods to condescend and send the first showers continues.
The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology had predicted a warmer than usual March, the summer of 2016 to be the hottest ever, and the El Nino effect could even lead to shortage of water. The coming days are only going to get hotter and with it are health hazards and illnesses especially food gets rancid sooner and adequate refrigeration and storage facilities are missing. Already the power load has increased and power failures have increased. A delayed monsoon is also predicted, raising fears of deaths due to heat stroke when the hot spell continues unabated.
Myanmar is not really the hottest country in the world. The problem arises due to people not being accustomed to this kind of heat and global warming is gradually pushing average temperatures up. May is also the month when the average sunlight hours are the highest.
The number of people fainting and falling in the heat is increasing as body salts reduce due to excessive sweating. Overcrowded public transport with lack of proper ventilation, further aggravate the problem. Stomach disorders and food poisoning is on the rise.
Thankfully the heat abates after sunset thanks to the numerous water bodies and the breeze that brings cooler air onto the land expanse. This makes the late evenings and nights a bit more comfortable. But with the highest temperature of the day touching 40 degrees, the drop in night temperatures is only of a few degrees.
Beating the heat – A few Tips to stay cool
Global warming that we see in every corner of the world, is here to stay and Myanmar is just getting hotter by the year. Interestingly, every year as the heat intensifies we seem to forget how bad it was the year before. With no other alternatives, it is best to attempt to stay cool and avoid the ill effects of the heat by adopting a few recommended remedies.
- Wear cottons in light colors – Cotton material is ideally suited for summer and thin cotton helps in allowing air to pass through. Cottons also absorb sweat and prevent stickiness on the skin. Wearing light colors helps because they reflect the sun’s heat away from the body and help it to stay cooler. Dark colors absorb the heat and pass it on to the body. According to a 2011Mayo Clinic report, light colored clothing are the key to regulating body temperature and help in staying cool, thereby subverting the risk of heat strokes. White color retains the least amount of heat.
- Increase consumption of fluids to stay hydrated – Heat tends to dehydrate the body and fluid loss is far quicker. This leads to exhaustion and fatigue sets in much sooner. It is important to increase fluid consumption and this includes water, the most important nutrient. Water helps to maintain body temperature and takes the heat away from the body’s internal organs, hence preventing damage due to a heat stroke. Fresh juices and coconut water are other cooling fluids that help in keeping the body hydrated. Tea and coffee while adding to fluid intake, also have a diuretic effect.
- Avoid walking under the sun, select the shaded alleys – In countries like Myanmar the sun hits us even more due to the vast expanses of land getting the heat of the sun directly, few pockets of inhabited land and virtually no high rise buildings. Though there is respite in the form of water bodies and the greenery surrounding them, it cannot reduce the heat felt. Thankfully there are trees all around even in cities like Yangon that are the most thickly populated. It is preferable to walk in their shade or even in the shade of the buildings to prevent sunburn and heat strokes.
- Stay indoors during the afternoons – the sun is directly above us at noon but its heat is maximum on the ground at 2 pm. Though it begins to subside subsequently, the afternoons are the worst times to be outdoors. It is best to keep outdoor activity for early mornings and late evenings.
- Avoid foods that are heat inducing – In eastern cultures, there is a distinct concept of warm foods and cold foods, that is heat-inducing and cooling foods. Thus fruits are supposed to be cooling while dry fruits supposedly induce heat in the body. Similarly red meat is heat inducing while salads are cooling. Having cold fruits and yoghurt is always beneficial in keeping heat away from internal organs.
- Cover glass windows and keep closed during daytime – Plain glass windows are unable to block the heat piercing through, unless the glass is tinted or covered. Even curtains need a sun blocking lining to stop the heat. Keeping windows closed prevents the hot air from entering and makes a marginal difference in room temperature. The natural inclination always is to open doors and windows to capture any amount of fresh breeze.
- Lighter food with salad focus – Heavy, oily foods and fried snack foods take longer to digest due to the high oil content. Similarly, spicy foods and caffeine add to the heat produced in the body, with some spices even causing burning sensations. Certain types of medicines taken for lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments also produce heat in the body due to their chemical composition but are unavoidable due to their therapeutic value. Salads with their high water content, cooling properties and freshness can make up for heat producing foods and if consumed in larger quantities, can help to keep body heat low.
- Prevent loss of body salts – when outside temperatures are high the body faces more stress and tends to sweat. Sweating takes away body fluids and minerals. This aggravates the stress on the body and can cause cramps. Sweat contains salts and when these body salts are depleted, a feeling of weakness leads to fainting spells and one falls down just anywhere, causing injuries. The only solution lies in having plenty of fluids especially juices of coconut and orange. Electrolyte supplements help too.
- Exercise in cooler places or just swim – Exercise causes sweating and this can be a double whammy if carried out in warm places or outdoors. Cooler areas like under the shade of trees, or indoors, is more practical and sustainable for a longer period. Alternatively, exercise can be kept for after sunset when it is cooler. The best exercise during these hot summer months is swimming, since being in the water is extremely refreshing and cooling since it reduces the body heat. Swimming is a work out for the whole body that also reduces weight and therefore is the perfect form of exercise.
For countries where increased temperatures are a recent phenomenon, it is going to take some time to get accustomed to the scorching heat of the sun. Myanmar is witnessing some of the most severe summers now and the effects of El Nino as predicted are making life quite uncomfortable. The monsoon showers are still a month away, but till then it is important to beat the heat.