Heat wave: help the poor

Heat wave: help the poor

The searing heat wave that is sweeping across India, particularly the northern and central parts of the country, is shattering weather records. Temperatures being reported from various parts of the country are extraordinarily high. On Monday, Delhi recorded a high of 48 degrees Celsius, the highest to be recorded in June since 1998. In parts of north-western India, the maximum temperatures this summer were 3-5 degrees Celsius above normal. Temperatures in Rajasthan have soared as high as 50.8 degrees Celsius. According to official figures, the heat wave has claimed the lives of some 36 people so far this year. Public health experts say this is an underestimation as the government counts only those who die of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, while ignoring those who die when illnesses they suffer from are exacerbated by heat stress.

The homeless, rickshaw pullers, building and road construction workers, traffic policemen and farmers are the worst affected by heat waves as they work all day, even in the afternoon when the heat is at its worst. Poverty makes a heat wave all the more unbearable. The health and nutrition of the poor being low to start with, resistance of the poor to heat stress is low. In addition to providing them with shelter, food and water, working hours on construction sites should be changed during summer. India needs to do more to improve the capacity of the poor to withstand the impact of extreme heat and cold.

Climate change researchers have been warning that its impact will be felt not just through global warming and rising sea levels but through the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, including heat waves, snowstorms, floods, etc. According to the National Disaster Management Authority officials, both day and night temperatures have been higher this year. A larger area has been hit, too, by the heat wave. If in 2015, nine states reeled under a heat wave, this year it is 23 states. The number of heat wave days has increased as well. This is a period of extreme weather. This year’s summer in India should serve as yet another reminder to the international community that climate change is not some distant problem that will begin to impact us some decades from now but a crisis whose impact is already being felt in diverse ways across the world. The numbers that are predicted to be impacted by heat in a few decades from now are staggering. By 2050, some 360 million people will be exposed to extreme heat in 142 Indian cities. Is India preparing for such eventualities? It is time India, and the world, acted decisively to tackle climate change.

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