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It's Going To Get Hotter In India

May 22, 2024 08:59 IST

More than 80 per cent of Indians live in districts vulnerable to climate risks.
Among these, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Bihar are the most vulnerable states to extreme climate events.

IMAGE: A woman pours water on her head to cool herself amid the ongoing heatwave at the Swami Vivekananda Camp in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, May 21, 2024. Photograph: Mohd Zakir/ANI Photo

As summer arrives, India braces for the onslaught of heatwaves, despite having substantial heat action plans in place.

A recent study by the World Weather Attribution group reveals significant gaps in preparedness, including underfunded plans, inadequate consideration of local contexts, insufficient targeting of vulnerable groups, and a lack of periodic evaluations.

The incidents of extreme temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in April, which affected billions of people across Asia, were intensified and made more probable by human-induced climate change, according to the rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution group.

"From Gaza to Delhi to Manila, people suffered and died when April temperatures soared in Asia," said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute-Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London.

"If humans continue to burn fossil fuels, the climate will continue to warm, and vulnerable people will continue to die," Otto further said.

IMAGE: A man drinks water to quench his thirst on a hot summer afternoon near India Gate, New Delhi, May 21, 2024. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo

The study advocates for the expansion of mandatory regulations alongside existing action plans to tackle the challenges posed by climate change.

'Some countries, such as India, have comprehensive heat action plans in place. Yet, to protect some of the most vulnerable people, these must be expanded with mandatory regulations,' the report pointed out.

'Workplace interventions for all workers to address heat stress, such as scheduled rest breaks, fixed work hours, and rest-shade-rehydrate programs, are necessary but have yet to become part of worker protection guidelines in the affected regions,' the report stated.

IMAGE: A man washes his face from a public tap to beat the heat as the temperature reaches 43 degrees Celsius in Amritsar, May 20, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Existing heatwave action plans and strategies are challenged by rapidly growing cities, an increase in informal settlements and exposed populations, a reduction in green spaces, and a rise in energy demands.

More than 13 people died from heatstroke during an open-air day event in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, despite the state not facing any heatwave conditions, according to media reports.

While many cities have been implementing solutions like cool roofs, nature-based infrastructure design, and adherence to climate risk-informed building codes, there is limited focus on retrofitting and upgrading existing buildings and settlements, with infrastructure deficits (asbestos roofs), to make them more liveable, the study stated.

"Heat action plans set out measures for dealing with heat, like changing work and school hours. Although various countries have made substantial progress on such plans, there is an urgent need to scale up and further strengthen them across Asia to deal with the rising heat," said Carolina Pereira Marghidan, Climate Risk Consultant at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

IMAGE: Commuters travel in a heat haze on a hot summer day in Bhubaneswar, May 3, 2024. Photograph: Reuters

Climate change, caused by burning oil, coal, and gas, and other human activities like deforestation, is making heatwaves more frequent, longer, and hotter around the world, putting millions at risk.

According to a report by the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water, more than 80 per cent of Indians live in districts vulnerable to climate risks.

Among these, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Bihar are the most vulnerable states in the country to extreme climate events.

IMAGE: People cover themselves to protect from the scorching heat as temperatures soar across Delhi, May 20, 2024. Photograph: Sanjay Sharma/ANI Photo

A conservative range of 45 per cent to 1.19 per cent of India's GDP in 2050 and 59 per cent to 1.17 per cent of India's GDP in 2100 is estimated as the cost of global inaction on mitigating climate change, according to an estimate by CEEW.

The heat is particularly difficult for people living in refugee camps and informal housing, as well as for outdoor workers.

The heatwave exacerbated already precarious conditions faced by internally displaced people, migrants and those in refugee camps and conflict zones across West Asia.

'In Gaza, extreme heat worsened the living conditions of 1.7 million displaced people,' the study said.

IMAGE: A woman covers her face with a scarf to protect her from the heat in Bhubaneswar, May 3, 2024. Photograph: Reuters

The scientist observed a strong climate change signal in the 2024 April mean temperature.

'These extreme temperatures are now about 45 times more likely and 0.85 degree Celsius hotter. These results align with previous studies, where we found that climate change made the extreme heat about 30 times more likely and 1 degree celsius hotter,' the study said.

April brought severe heat waves to Asia, with South and Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and the Philippines breaking records for their hottest days and nights.

India also saw scorching temperatures reaching up to 46 degree Celsius.

IMAGE: In the wake of prevailing heat wave conditions in Jharkhand, an official notification was issued announcing the suspension of classes up to Class 8 in government and private schools across the state, April 30, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Across India, the extreme heatwave event in April posed significant risks to millions of people as over 50 per cent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture.

The heat also had a large impact on agriculture, causing crop damage and reduced yields, as well as on education, with holidays having to be extended and schools closed in several countries, affecting millions of students.

'While there is evidence that El Niño events increase the likelihood and intensity of heat waves over India, this does not diminish the role of global mean surface temperature (GMST) in making the event hotter than it would have been,' the study said.

IMAGE: A man uses a newspaper as others use umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat as they wait to vote outside a polling station in Howrah district, West Bengal, May 20, 2024. Photograph: Sahiba Chawdhary/Reuters

As incomes rise and urbanisation accelerates, the ownership of air conditioning units has seen a remarkable surge in India, becoming one of the most favoured coping strategies, the study highlights.

Heatwaves are among the deadliest type of extreme weather event and while the death toll is often under-reported, hundreds of deaths have been reported already in most of the affected countries, including Palestine, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines.

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