RANGOON — The ultraviolet index is approaching dangerously high levels as Burma begins the summer season, according to meteorologist Tun Lwin.
The UV index is an international standard measurement of the strength of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun at a particular place and time.
Tun Lwin, a former director-general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, said the index had reached 12 in some locations in Burma in recent days. Public health organizations recommend that people protect themselves—including by applying sunscreen to the skin—when the UV index is 3 or higher.
“It’s a dangerous level. It’s better not to go outside during the day, and be careful by wearing clothes that fully cover the body,” said the meteorologist, who is currently chief executive of the Myanmar Climate Change Watch.
He added that it was likely the index would reach 14 in the coming months, before the country transitions to rainy season in June. “Last year it surpassed 14, at the highest level that we have ever seen since we started measuring the UV index three years ago,” he said.
In small amounts, UV radiation can be beneficial for people. It is essential for the production of Vitamin D, and under medical supervision can be used to treat a number of diseases, including rickets, psoriasis, eczema and jaundice, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
At high levels, however, UV radiation can damage the skin and eyes over time. Worldwide, some 12 to 15 million people become blind annually from cataracts, of which up to 20 percent may be caused or enhanced by sun exposure, according to the WHO.
“The summertime is March to May, so now is only the beginning. There is still more time left, and I expect it to become even hotter,” Tun Lwin said of conditions in Burma, adding that temperatures were rising due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in Southeast Asia.
The UV index is split into five levels, beginning with 0, when there is no sunlight, according to Than Htut, an environmental health specialist. The “green level,” from 1 to 3, indicates the minimum amount of UV radiation that can affect a person. Next comes the “yellow level” (4 to 6), the “orange level” (7 to 9) and the “red level” (9 to 11), which is dangerous for health. When the index hits 11 or higher, conditions are labeled as extreme.
Indices greater than 11 are common in summer months in areas of low latitudes, or in areas with above average ozone layer depletion.
Than Htut said UV radiation had been rising in Tenasserim Division since February, and recently began rising in other parts of southern Burma as well as central Burma.
“Most people think the UV index relates to temperature, but it’s not the same. You cannot see ultraviolet rays with your eyes, but extreme UV can affect people directly,” he added.
According to the Myanmar Climate Change Watch, in past years the heat index has reached dangerous levels in Burma. The heat index is a measure of air temperatures and relative humidity that shows the human-perceived equivalent temperature. It reached 56 degrees Celsius in April 2012, and 62 degrees Celsius in May that year, with deaths reported as a result of the weather.
“The recent weather is becoming like that period now,” Tun Lwin said. “Do not go outside without any cover, because this can directly affect your body.”