|Chilling out:People in HCM City seek respite from the heat. — VNS Photo The Anh
by Thien Ly
Every Saturday evening, as a weekend treat, Tran Huyen Thanh of Tan Binh District takes her children to the Nguyen Kiem Co-opmart Supermarket for dinner.
Of late, the family has been visiting the supermarket on Monday evenings as well.
They are not enamoured of the food there, but of the air-conditioned comfort it offers.
"Of late, I have had to take my children to the supermarket for dinner more often than once a week to escape the scorching weather. The heat is threatening the health of our children," Thanh said.
Thanh's family is one of thousands who have sought the cooler spaces of local supermarkets for respite from the hot spell that has seen the mercury hover around 40oC in HCM City.
Sales have jumped up at supermarkets in the city, but not proportionate to the increase in the number of visitors.
A representative of the Co-op Supermarket outlet on Nguyen Kiem Street in Phu Nhuan District said products like soft drinks and other beverages, ice cream, sun cream and helmets were selling very well. Sales of vegetables and fruits, particularly lemons, watermelons, grapefruit and carrots have also increased significantly, he said.
The Marximark Cong Hoa supermarket in Tan Binh has also seen a similar surge in customers.
"It is very hot at home and the power supply is intermittent, so my family chooses to have dinner at the supermarket every once in a while, because it is cool there. At the same time, I can use the opportunity to buy something," said Nguyen Thu Hien of Le Van Si Street.
Maximark director Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao said the supermarket's sales have not increased significantly despite being very crowded because people were coming there mainly to escape the hot weather outdoor.
"The bestsellers in the supermarket are carbonated drinks and lemon tea," Thao said.
Street shops that sell beverages are also very crowded these days, with coconut water and fruit juice being popular choices.
Swimming pools in the city are attracting more visitors looking to escape the heat.
Phung Khanh Dao, who manages the Tan Binh Swimming Pool on Hoang Van Thu Street, said the number of people coming to the swimming pool has raised sharply in recent days, even going up to 1,600 per day, compared to the normal inflow of between 500 and 600.
According to the Southern Weather Bureau, the temperature in recent days has climbed to 38oC in HCM City (42 and 43 degrees on the surface of the roads), the highest level in the last two years. It has been particularly hot in the city's central districts including 1, 3, 5, 10 and 11 since they have limited green spaces, officials said.
Many other places neighbouring the city, like the provinces of Binh Phuoc and Dong Nai, and further, like provinces in the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta are also experiencing high temperatures of between 35 and 38 degrees.
Nguyen Minh Giam, director of the Southern Weather Bureau, said weak winds from late March have contributed to making the weather hotter. This situation is likely to last until mid-May, he said.
The prolonged, scorching weather has seen many people, particularly children, fall sick. Most hospitals in the city are overcrowded, with most patients suffering common respiratory diseases like sore throat, rhinitis and bronchitis.
In recent days, the Chidren's Hospital 1 in the city each day has been receiving about 5,000 children, many of them with diarrhoea; and the number of patients being treated for breathing problems at the Children's Hospital 2 has also increased significantly.
Urban Heat Island
According to experts, haphazard urbanisation in the city has contributed to HCM City being strongly affected by the "Urban Heat Island (UHI)" phenomenon.
UHI refers to a metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.
With concreted areas much higher than water surfaces and green spaces, the heat that hits the city is not absorbed fully and bounces back, experts say.
Luu Duc Cuong of the Institute for Urban and Rural Architecture Planning said concretisation in the city has not only caused the UHI phenomenon but also "increased temperatures in the air and rain".
The city's urbanisation over the last 14 years has seen 47 canals with a combined area of 18.4ha disappear. It has also filled 7.4ha of the Binh Tien Lake. To date, the total area of parks, flower gardens and green road dividers (with trees) has been reduced by 50 per cent to 535ha, compared with the figure 15 years ago.
Even within parks in the city, short-sighted policies have seen authorities concretise increasing areas as part of "beautification" projects.
Increasing population has significantly increased the volume of traffic, air-conditioners and refrigerators in the city, all of which blow out a huge volume of hot air, making the city become hotter and hotter, experts say.
They say that to cool the city down, new green spaces have to be created and perennial trees with wide canopies better protected.
Tran Chi Dung, director of the Municipal Planning and Architecture Department, said, "In its development master plan until 2025, the HCM City government has outlined some measures to expand its green areas. These include preservation of existing green spaces, greening landscapes on the banks of Sai Gon and Dong Nai rivers and other waterways, construction of new parks and water reservoirs."
The Municipal Department of Transport is also planning several measures to reduce the use of individual vehicles in inner city areas by replacing them with efficient public transportation.
The deparment has encouraged transport companies to use vehicles that run on more green fuels, contributing to reducing the city's carbon footprint as well as its temperature in the long run.
Meanwhile, residents keep looking for shelter in all kinds of public airconditioned spaces like shopping malls and supermarkets. — VNS