Heatwave: No sign of respite for northern India

Red alert active for five more days across Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and north-west Madhya Pradesh

Children take advantage of lawn sprinklers in Central Delhi, near Parliament (photo: PTI)
Children take advantage of lawn sprinklers in Central Delhi, near Parliament (photo: PTI)


A blistering heat wave has been sweeping through large parts of India for what was the fifth consecutive day on Tuesday, 21 May, affecting health and livelihoods.

And still no relief can be predicted in the affected areas — Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and north-west Madhya Pradesh — for at least the next five days.

The Met Office has issued a red warning for these states, stressing the need for "extreme care for vulnerable people".

It said extreme heat will continue even in the lower foothills of Himachal Pradesh, typically a safe haven for people looking to escape the punishing heat of the plains in summer.

On Tuesday, temperatures remained above 45 degrees Celsius in swathes of Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Chandigarh and Uttar Pradesh, affecting daily life as many chose to remain indoors in the afternoon.

Parts of Gujarat reeled from a deadly combination of high heat and humidity.

The mercury soared to a blistering 47.8 degrees Celsius in Haryana's Sirsa, making it the warmest place in the country on Tuesday.

In Delhi, temperatures dropped a few degrees compared to the previous days but remained three to five notches above normal for this time of the year.

Officials said the national capital's peak power demand reached an all-time high of 7,717 MW on Tuesday afternoon, as households and offices increased the use of air conditioners.

The power demand is projected to cross 8,000 MW, peaking at around 8,200 MW this summer.

Resident Welfare Associations in Delhi demanded that coolers, fans, cold drinking water and even doctors be made available at polling booths to beat the heat on election day in the national capital.

Polling for the seven Lok Sabha seats in the city will be held on 25 May.

The IMD had earlier warned of extreme heat in India during the April–June period, coinciding with the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections that end on 1 June.

On Tuesday, the mercury dropped marginally at some places in Himachal Pradesh following thunderstorms and showers even as Una and Neri recorded a high of 42.4 degrees and 42.2 degrees Celsius.

The local weather department said no relief from the scorching heat was likely as the maximum and minimum temperatures are likely to increase by 2–3 degrees over the next 4–5 days and stay appreciably above normal.

The mercury rose further in Rajasthan, where Pilani in Jhunjhunu continued to remain the hottest in the state with a maximum of 47.2 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.

Normal life was crippled due to the prevailing severe heat conditions.

The Met Centre in Jaipur predicted the maximum temperature was likely to increase by 2 degrees Celsius over the next 72 hours. There is a possibility of heatwave at most places in the state and intense heat wave at some places in the next two days.

Severe heat waves have impacted a large number of people in parts of India for three years in a row, affecting health, water availability, agriculture, power generation and other sectors of the economy.

The crippling heat particularly strains low-income households, which often have poor access to water and cooling, and tests the endurance of outdoor workers toiling in the searing sun, forcing them to take frequent breaks.

"The intense heat is affecting my income. The daily earnings have come down from around Rs 1,600 to Rs 1,000. I am not taking any breaks in an effort to cut down the losses — this could affect my health," said 33-year-old Azharuddin, an auto-rickshaw driver.

According to a World Bank report, India could account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress-associated productivity decline by 2030.

With 75 per cent of workers in India experiencing heat-related stress, lost labour from rising heat and humidity could result in a loss of up to 4.5 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) — equivalent to approximately USD 150–250 billion — by the end of this decade, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute.

Experts say outdoor workers, the elderly and children are at higher risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 166,000 people died as a result of heatwaves between 1998 and 2017.

People are less productive during hot weather, and children struggle to learn.

Parts of India logged record-smashing maximum temperatures in April too, prompting health warnings from government agencies and a few states to suspend in-person classes in schools.

Several places recorded their highest-ever April day temperatures, and at least five people died in the country due to suspected heat stroke during this period.

A group of leading climate scientists last week said similar heat waves could occur once every 30 years, and these have already become about 45 times more likely due to climate change.

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