Heat kills—why aren’t we taking it seriously? | Inquirer Opinion

Heat kills—why aren’t we taking it seriously?

Over the last few weeks, I have been shocked and saddened by news of people dying suddenly or having found themselves in terrible health. Some are close friends or acquaintances, while some I heard in the daily news, like the four local government workers in Pili, Camarines Sur, who died due to extreme heat, according to the local health unit. In Cavite, the reported casualty was a 6-month-old baby. There are probably more unfortunate stories of heatstroke leading to death or hospitalization that we have not heard of.

The sweltering heat has negatively affected our household as well. Our kids’ classes are either canceled or shortened, which, at large, must have an effect on learning outcomes. We have also drastically cut time spent outdoors, which, on the other hand, implies less physical activity and increased use of air conditioning. A meme made rounds on social media saying that if the oppressive heat will not kill you, then your electric bill might just do the job.

There has been some action from government agencies particularly the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) whose spokesperson has been diligent in repeatedly explaining on the evening news what the “heat index” means and warning people of the dangers of extreme heat. However, looking at the bigger picture, I simply don’t think enough is being done.

According to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, 2023 was the hottest year on record and 2024 could end up hotter once the aggregate data get analyzed. I agree that this is a global issue requiring a global solution, but I also think that a paradigm shift on our government’s part, paired with practical heat-specific interventions will go a long way in protecting the Filipino public against extreme heat, particularly infants and the elderly, as well as workers whose occupations leave them with no choice but to be heavily exposed to the sun.In Miami, the world’s first “chief heat officer” has emerged on the scene and is now actively working to protect the city’s most vulnerable residents from extreme heat. As early as 2016, South Australia came up with an “extreme heat strategy.” In India, different projects are now underway ranging from artificial intelligence-powered heat alert systems to the establishment of “cooling centers’’ especially in high-risk areas.


In the Philippines, we only hear about the peak temperatures of the day when watching the evening news. If you go outside during the day, it is rare to see the live temperature readings displayed to warn the public even in major city centers. In the same way that we have early warning systems for rains and flooding, we sure need a counterpart for heat.

While local governments can certainly make a difference, there is no substitute for clear, sensible, and bold national leadership on this urgent matter. By now, we should already have a national action plan on heat designed to enable multiple agencies to come together, from Pagasa, to the health department and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This action plan will have to influence a wide range of our policies and programs, from protecting forests and urban greens to labor protections, and even how we design and build public spaces and facilities, such as markets and schools.

The policy might fall short without a shift in culture. When we were looking for a place to build our new house, almost everyone I know cautioned us against potential flooding. No one had thought of warning us about average or peak temperature during summer months, whether there were trees to provide shade or absorb the heat, or whether the town had proper systems in place to address health and safety problems caused by intense heat. This reflects what climate-related anxieties dwell in our heads. Of course, this is not surprising, what with biblical stories and great myths about water gobbling up entire cities or the whole world, and with traumatic cyclones such as “Ondoy” and “Yolanda” still fresh in our minds. Disasters caused by water are indeed fearsome, but there are approximately three months in the year when the biggest threat to our communities and families is shining right above us, and encircling us, too.

Any further delay in making heat a priority for public health and safety will certainly cost us not just productivity or learning loss, but precious lives.



Kevin Mandrilla works as a manager for a multinational engineering, design, and advisory company. He has a master’s degree in Asian Studies and writes about politics, culture, and ways of rethinking key issues.

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