India’s Heat Wave Is Now the 5th Deadliest in the World

Sikh pilgrim at the Golden Temple in India

Sikh pilgrim at the Golden Temple Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India. Photo: Paulrudd.

Heat is a constant phenomenon across much of India during summertime, but the country’s most recent heat wave has killed over 2,300 people and placed among the top five deadliest in the world.

Impacting much of the eastern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the heat wave forced many people indoors. Those without a place to escape the soaring temperatures suffered most. Authorities said most of the victims who perished from heat were construction workers, the elderly or homeless who suffered from sunstroke or dehydration.

Temperatures in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana peaked at 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius). In response to the heat wave, the Andhra Pradesh state government launched a campaign encouraging residents to stay indoors, drink lots of water, use an umbrella and keep their heads and bodies covered to avoid sunstroke.

According to the Indian government’s National Disaster Management Authority website, the country is experiencing more intense heat waves more frequently due to global climate change.

On Twitter and much of the news media, reactions pointed out the death toll, yet did not highlight the fact that many who died did not have the means to escape the heat.

Most of the people killed in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana states were labourers at construction sites who continued with their work even when the temperatures were at the peak. Richard Mahapatra suggested in youth news and commentary website Youth Ki Awaaz how Telangana and Andhra Pradesh could take their cue from the Odisha state government on reducing number of heat stroke deaths:

After the heavy casualties in 1998, the Odisha government treats it as a disaster on the scale of cyclone or flood.

By February-end, the government starts the preparation for fighting heat wave with a single objective in mind: no human casualty. Schools and colleges shift to early morning sessions. They open at 6.30am and end by 12 noon.

Government offices also follow the same timings. Examinations are held by March. Public transport does not operate between 12 noon and 3.30pm. Public wage programmes like, MGNREGA is halted from 11.30am to 3.30pm.

A study in Nature Climate Change revealed that increasing the weather is already limiting India’s labor capacity. Another study shows that heat stress “will be increasingly deadly” in the future, with over 250 million farmers expected to suffer.

Energy and access to air conditioning has become an increasingly important issue. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made universal electricity access by 2019 part of his election platform. The rising middle class and changing climate has increased the demand for air conditioning 20 percent this year.

How the global community can prevent and prepare for natural disasters remains to be seen. Luckily, the monsoon has begun in Kerala and will soon move travel across the country.

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Written by Lakshmi Sarah
Global Voices

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