Heat is surging in India, risking blackouts and deaths

United States special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry launches the Climate Action and Finance Mobilisation Dialogue (CAFMD) under India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership, in New Delhi, India, September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Temperatures are soaring across India this week, sparking warnings about heat waves and increasing the risk of blackouts, potentially exposing millions of people to heat exhaustion or deadly heat stroke.

The maximum temperature exceeded 44C (111F) in Prayagraj, a city in Uttar Pradesh, and in Jharsuguda in Odisha on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, and remained about 5C above normal in many areas. Heat wave conditions are likely to prevail over parts of the country including West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh states on Wednesday, before abating in some places later this week, according to the India Meteorological Department.

Other regions of Asia are also witnessing heat waves this week, stretching power grids and boosting the need for fossil fuels. Temperatures surged in Thailand and Bangladesh, while China’s Yunnan province is grappling with a drought.

India’s bracing for what might be a hotter summer than usual. This year, there’s increased focus on the weather after the subcontinent suffered a punishing heat wave in 2022 that caused widespread human suffering and affected global wheat supplies. There’s also concern about power failures as people turn up their air-conditioners and push the grid to the limit.

Heat, when combined with humidity, becomes especially dangerous, or even deadly. A majority of India’s 1.4 billion population work outdoors, often without protection. Many construction workers, hawkers and rickshaw pullers die each year during the summer as they don’t have the means to beat the heat. The nation suffers from the most pronounced heat-related labor losses in the world.

At least 11 people died of dehydration and scores needed medical help following heat strokes on Sunday after attending a government-sponsored event in Maharashtra, where they sat under the scorching sun for hours, the Times of India reported.

The authorities have asked people to be vigilant about their health by staying hydrated. The weather office advised to avoid exposure to heat, wear lightweight, loose and cotton clothes, and cover heads.

The eastern state of West Bengal has ordered all educational institutions to shut this week to protect children from extreme heat conditions. In some other provinces, school timings have been shortened.



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