Scorching heat

A searing heat wave is sweeping through the country. The temperature has crossed 47 degrees centigrade in parts of Maharashtra. The northern plains are withering under a scorching summer. Delhi recorded its highest temperature in 50 years last week. But it is Orissa, where the temperature touched 45 degrees that has borne the brunt. Over 120 people have died here in the past week alone. While it is still hot in much of peninsular India, the worst of summer is more or less over here. Pre-monsoon showers have cooled the weather in the south a bit. North India has still a lot to endure before the rains provide some respite. The death toll can be therefore expected to rise. Compounding the impact of the heat are power cuts and water shortages.
 It is the poor and the homeless that suffer the most during summer. Eighty per cent of those who die during heat waves are from below poverty line families. Construction workers and agricultural labourers figure overwhelmingly among the dead. They have to work long hours in the sun.  They cannot afford to stay away from work as they will lose daily wages and do not have the means to protect themselves from the heat. It is these sections that are the most vulnerable to sunstroke, dehydration and death. It is not soaring temperatures per se that is killing people. The heat wave is only the proximate cause of their death. It is poverty, the lack of access to food, water and shelter that is killing people. That Orissa, one of the poorest states, has recorded the largest number of heat wave deaths is indicative. It is the failure of the government to address issues of poverty and homelessness that must be blamed for the heat wave deaths.
There are places that are hotter than India. The temperature in El Azizia in Libya for instance is known to cross 60 degrees every summer. Yet people here do not die of the heat. Their government provides them with the infrastructure to tide over the heat. Health authorities here tell us to stay indoors and drink plenty of water to avoid heat stroke and exhaustion. This is sound advice. But how many people have a roof over their head or access to drinking water? Heat waves sear India annually. Does the government have an action plan to deal with its impact?

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