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Productivity to drop in Asia Pacific due to heat stress

 | July 19, 2016

Global studies show almost 20% of annual work hours may be lost in heat-exposed jobs.

heat stress

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is likely to decline by almost 6% by 2030 due to heat stress.

This is according to a study by the United Nations University’s Malaysia-based International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH), that published six new research papers under the “Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health.”

“This excellent series of peer reviewed papers help to focus attention on the impact of disasters and their health consequences, particularly in Southeast Asia.

“The papers summarise the need for emphasis on public health impact measurements as well as stressing the importance of enhanced scientific and technical work on disaster risk reduction,” Virginia Murray, a global disaster risk reduction expert from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), said at the forum Advancing Science and Technology in the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030.

The papers reveal that there would be a risk of productivity losses due to heat stress amounting to as much as 20%, a figure that may double by 2050 due to the constant increase in the earth’s temperature.

“Current climate conditions in tropical and subtropical parts of the world are already so hot during the hot seasons that occupational health effects occur and work capacity for many people is affected,” the journal’s author, Tord Kjellstrom, said.

In his papers, Kjellstrom cited the GDP losses of 43 countries, with Malaysia expecting a loss of 5.9%, which equates to about RM378 billion by 2030, and an estimation of 362 “serious heat days” per year.

He explained that “serious heat days” were defined as the number of days when Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) hovered above 26 degrees Celsius in a typical year, calculated from the most recent five-year average.

Meanwhile, according to Kjellstrom’s estimates, the global economic cost of reduced productivity could be more than RM7.9 trillion by 2030, with the most susceptible being the lowest paid jobs such as heavy labour, as well as low-skill agricultural and manufacturing jobs.

The paper also touched on several other issues, such as disastrously heavy rains contaminating freshwater resources that could compromise safe drinking water supplies, and climate change worsening air quality which could cause respiratory illnesses and other health problems.

“People know intuitively that ‘react and cure’ is a far more expensive strategy than ‘anticipate and prevent’. The experts behind these insightful papers, by detailing the high price of inaction in terms of both our finances and our health, greatly strengthen the case for taking defensive steps against disaster risks.

“The sooner the better,” Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister Najib Razak said.

Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei stated that more parties should pay attention to the SFDRR.

“The SFDRR underlines the increasing importance of science-based decision-making. Public health and disaster risk reduction needs the concerted approach of scientists, policy makers, civil society, the private sector, media and other stakeholders.

“It is now time to develop ‘words into action’,” Gyles-McDonnough said.



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