Basking and baking in a long spell of very hot weather

Rescue workers conduct search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan – Reuters file photo

FRIENDS have asked me when, exactly, did I return from Kuching to the UK after my latest visit to Borneo. Upon answering them, I was told that I brought the good weather with me to the UK. By ‘good weather’, they mean hot sunshine and little rain in summertime, but sadly they do not know the vagaries of Bornean weather in times of climate change.

With only a convectional thunderstorm yesterday and downpours of rain as torrential, as occurs in parts of Kuching on a daily basis, I was marooned in a nearby town supermarket for a mere 20 minutes as the run-off flowing from the carpark got closer to the exit doors. When I arrived at my country house, 10km away, but 50 metres higher, the garden soil was hardly wet. Urban areas certainly cause local convectional rainfall in certain parts of a town or city.

The UK has certainly basked in the longest spell of hot weather since the summer of 1976. In that year, most of the country had to obtain water supplies from nearby standpipes especially located in urban areas. This year, reservoirs in some parts of the UK are running very low and, as in 1976, the use of hosepipes to water gardens or wash cars is banned. Many British weather stations this year have recorded their highest temperatures ever. As in 1976, people have been asked to limit their use of water in the bathroom, in day to day usage, and in gardens to prevent their plants from wilting.

From Aug 5, in Northwest England, hosepipes are to be strictly banned with the equivalent of an RM5,000 fine if caught. Some seven million people will be affected, to include the large cities of Liverpool and Manchester, where most of their water is piped from Lake Thirlmere in the Lake District National Park.

Critics maintain that the water board in that region is losing 25 per cent of its daily water supplies, amounting to a loss of 453 million litres a day, to antiquated water pipe bursts. In other reservoirs in that part of England old villages, which were flooded when valleys were dammed to create reservoirs, are now being exhumed as water levels have fallen.

This 2018 heatwave has been declared by the UK Meteorological Office as the fifth driest summer since 1910, such that there is a growing need for water restrictions. This declaration baffles me somewhat, for the Spring months saw record-breaking periods of prolonged and torrential rainfall, filling reservoirs to the brim, flooding rivers and houses.

Elsewhere

This year, we have witnessed hurricanes, tornados, and typhoon devastations with driving rain and massive landslides worldwide. In alpine areas, avalanches have been more frequent than ever before. The recent tragic loss of 200 plus lives in a gigantic landslide in the Hiroshima prefecture of Hokkaido, Japan readily springs to mind.

Delhi has been hit by a series of violent sandstorms, worsening the air pollution that already exists there. To combat both forms of air pollution, the Indian government plans to plant over two million trees, to break the force of the sandstorms, and to absorb the millions of carbon dioxide particles in that massive city’s air.

North America and Asia have not escaped the sweltering heat of this summer under the baking sun. In Canada, Ottawa’s temperature has reached a record level of 47 degrees Celsius, whilst Denver, USA, has hit 41 degrees Celsius. In Iran, at Ahzaz, the highest ever has been recorded there at 54 degrees Celsius.

 

Wildfires

These have broken out all over the world in such tinder-like conditions with drought and high temperatures. In the UK in 1976, over 50,000 trees in my neighbouring county of Dorset were destroyed and massive outbreaks of fire occurred on moorlands near to my birthplace in Southwest Cornwall. This summer, fires have raged on bone dry moorlands to the east of Manchester with thousands of hectares of vegetation destroyed and many homes threatened by the blaze. Hundreds of firefighters and as many residents and soldiers fought the blaze.

As we know well, in the Miri lowland peat fires, once the surface outbreaks are extinguished with water in one place, fire can travel underground to break out elsewhere. This has happened on Saddleworth Moor and adjoining moorlands in Lancashire. Helicopter water drops helped but the blaze was finally quenched, after a month, by sudden rainfall. Fortunately, with a prolonged period of high pressure sitting over the most of Europe, wind speeds were very low and thus did not fan the flames.

Research scientists in Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies have stated that as temperatures rise, heat waves and wildfires are becoming more common. That, for me, stakes out a bleak future for forests and moorland vegetation worldwide.

Extreme effects

We must seriously ask ourselves whether the weather is extreme or if such atmospheric circumstances will be more common through climate change? We are today, as we have been for very many years, aware of the failing crops and resultant famines in the Sahel regions of Africa.

The dramatic photos of wizened and dying children in the Ethiopian drought of 1984 readily spring to mind. With overseas aid, many of these countries have combatted such problems. Today, the whole world is faced with the threats of climate change in terms of internal food production and supplies. An ever-increasing world population compounds matters.

A particular fungus, attributed by researchers to climate change, is spreading throughout Southeast Asian banana crops. With such a variety of banana types in Sabah and Sarawak, all of which I have eaten at breakfasts, I just wonder whether this fungus has infected banana bunches deep within these states.

At present in the UK, under European Union regulations, bananas have to be a specific length and shape. These Cavendish bananas taste pretty bland compared with Bornean bananas and are imported mostly from Ecuador and Colombia to be sold in supermarkets. They are merely plantation bananas cloned and first bred by William Cavendish, a Duke of Devonshire several centuries ago.

All is not lost, for the island of Madagascar holds the key to the survival of the banana plant. In the Madagascan rainforests, the rarest species of banana still exists although it is wrongly recorded in the International Union for Conservation of Nature species extinction list. These bananas are resistant to this fungus and, with further cloning, could save some banana populations worldwide.

We often refer to the ‘rice-bowls’ and the ‘bread-baskets’ around the world where the cultivation of rice and wheat, both staple food crops, exist on a massive scale. The current unpredictability of monsoonal rainfall and the dry monsoon affect both rice planting and harvesting times, thus playing havoc with crop yields and bringing fear of pest invasions. This year in the UK with the heatwave, the harvest of barley (for beer malt) and wheat crops are a month to six weeks ahead of the norm. The nutritional value of both crops has withered away with the incessant heat and very little rain. Baked by the sun, these crops have ripened a month or so early.

Yes, the heat wave has seen an early boom in the daily takings of those involved in the coastal resorts tourist trade, when people have flocked to their nearest beaches to cool down in the sea, but later this year we are likely to see an increase in bread and beer prices.

Fresh vegetables, particularly summer salad types, are becoming scarcer day by day and such crops are being imported from overseas at high prices for supermarket shelves. Many supermarkets have withdrawn frozen vegetables from their refrigerator stocks because they contain the bacteria listeria, which had infected the plants.

The tea plants in the world’s tea capital of Darjeeling, in India, cannot, this year, match in production the output of a relatively small Cornish tea plantation in the Southwest of England.

Climate change is causing massive swings and roundabouts to food production worldwide. This turmoil can be addressed by government intervention to provide monies to farming communities, for hydroponic and irrigation systems in some areas and in drainage systems in others. After all, as Napoleon Bonaparte once said in the early 19th century, “An army marches on its stomach.”

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