Heat wave amidst a pandemic lockdown

Heat wave amidst a pandemic lockdown

North and Central India are reeling under severe heat wave conditions over the past week. Churu in Rajasthan recorded a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius on Tuesday; the highest temperature recorded in the country this summer. Like Delhi, which sizzled at 47.6 Celsius earlier this week, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are sweltering in the high 40s. Temperatures over the past week are reportedly the highest for this time of the year that India has experienced in almost two decades. And respite is unlikely to come soon. The Meteorological department says that heat wave conditions will persist for a few more days. This year’s soaring temperatures have been attributed to Cyclone Amphan. The depression in the Bay of Bengal reportedly sucked out the moisture from across the subcontinent to dump it as rain on India’s east coast last week. As a result, North and Central India are now steaming hot. This year’s heat wave comes amid a trying time. The country is reeling under multiple crises: the Covid-19 pandemic and the related lockdown, the destruction wrought by Cyclone Amphan and a locust invasion of North-Western India. In previous years, many people would escape the full intensity of the heat by spending several hours in air-conditioned malls or at parks and beaches. People will not be able to avail these options this year because of Covid-19 and the need to maintain social distancing.

As in previous years, it is the poor who will suffer the most on account of the heat wave. Many of them work outdoors and live in tin shacks with no ventilation. Migrant workers who are trudging home to their villages are bearing the brunt of the heat wave. Many of them have been walking for days and are exhausted. Their bodies are already weak and heat stress will put it under additional pressure. They are extremely vulnerable to heat strokes and even death. Authorities are advising people to drink plenty of water. This is sensible advice. But have they provided the poor with access to safe drinking water?

Heat waves are lasting longer and have become more intense over the past decade. It is not just day temperatures that are soaring; nights are becoming hotter, too. The number of Indian states hit by heat waves has surged in recent years. Hotter summers and heat waves are hitting our hills, too. Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly, causing serious flooding. Clearly, climate change is not a distant nightmare any longer. Global warming is real and already unfolding and India is suffering its deadly impact, this time in the midst of a pandemic.

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