India’s most intense and most extended heat waves in decades with temperatures reaching almost 123 degrees, has killed at least 36 people since it began in May. The government has warned that due to delay in the arrival of monsoon rains, the suffering might continue.
With the intensified climate change around the world, India’s heat waves have grown intense, particularly in the past decade, killing thousands of people and an increasing number of states got affected. This year, extreme temperatures have been recorded in significant parts of central and northern India, including the worst-hit states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
According to Anup Kumar Srivastava, an expert at India’s National Disaster Management Authority, the number of Indian states hit by heat waves increased from nine in 2015 to 19 in 2018 and this year it was expected to touch 23.
“This year, the number of heat wave days have also increased — and it’s not just day temperature, night temperatures have also been high,” he said.
In some areas, impending storms would bring down temperatures, but until the monsoon rains arrive, the heat waves might pick up again, Mr. Srivastava said.
The temperature reached 123 degrees Fahrenheit (about 51 Celsius) in the Churu area of northern India’ Rajasthan, twice in the past week. Meteorological Department of India warns that this extreme heat brings a “very high likelihood of developing heat illness and heat stroke in all ages.” The exceptional temperatures of 118 degrees also got recorded in many other parts of the state.
The medical authorities have canceled doctor’s leaves at hospitals in Churu as the number of patients has shot up. Schools too have remained closed in central India’s Madhya Pradesh.
Heatwave means prolonged temperatures of minimum 113 degrees, and when it is 117 degrees or higher, it’s considered a severe heat wave.
The temperatures reached a record 118.4 degrees on June 10 in New Delhi, the capital of India. Even though clouds promised rain on Tuesday, but they largely failed to shower. The next day dust storms lowered temperatures to around 100.
The rising greenhouse gas emissions caused average temperatures to move upward, breaking more likely the heat records around the world.
The global trend line is clear though there are variations year by year. The past five years have been the five warmest years in recorded history, and since 2001, 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred.
As per the recent analysis of climate trends in South Asia’s several biggest cities, in case current warming trends continue, the levels of heat and humidity would be so high by the century end, that people directly exposed for six hours or more would not survive.
This year’s weeks-long heat wave caused four people, ranging in age from 69 to 80, to die in Uttar Pradesh during a passenger packed train journey without air-conditioning on Tuesday when the temperature soared to almost 50C. The victims were Hindu pilgrims returning home to Kerala in southern India after visiting north India’s holy city of Varanasi.
Despite extreme temperatures, this year the death toll has been lower than in previous years. According to government data, 6,000 people and more have died due to heat waves in India since 2010. The worst case was in 2015 when 2,000 and more deaths occurred.
Since then, although the heat waves have continued, the number of immediate heat deaths has declined significantly— 375 deaths were recorded in 2017, but only 20 in 2018. However, the full lethality of a heat wave is often not reflected in official death tolls.
One study by public health researchers found that in Ahmedabad, in western India which usually is a hot city, as temperatures soared to 118 degrees Fahrenheit in May 2010, the overall mortality increased by 43 percent than the same period in previous years.
Since 2015, officials and analysts attributed the decline in recorded deaths to government’s increased precautions. During heat waves, the government officials have urged Indian employers to reduce and change work hours, mainly in outdoor areas such as construction sites, and have provided free drinking water particularly in vulnerable and crowded regions.
As per Mr. Srivastava, the goal of the disaster management authority was to keep the death toll to single digits this year. However, the efforts have been complicated due to the national election of the country, and government workers who were required to issue the warning measures were instead deployed on election duty, he explained.
However, in the state of Gujarat in western India, officials were bracing a different sort of extreme weather: A major cyclone of over 100 miles an hour was approaching. Flights and trains were canceled, and about 300,000 people were evacuated. However, it appeared early Thursday that the cyclone might evade Gujarat.
This year it was the second major storm that approached India followed by the super cyclone Fani which struck Odisha in eastern India in March. The early warning system worked remarkably well there as the government managed to evacuate about a million people and avoid the widespread deaths caused by past storms.