Heat wave conditions have claimed the lives of over 500 people in India since April. India’s Department of Disaster Management reported that 524 people have died of sunstroke since April 1. The Indian Meteorological Department said tomorrow’s forecast called for clear skies and continued heat, warning that “the heatwave will continue.”
The Times of India reported that the state of Hyderabad’s 500 sunstroke deaths in just three days is the highest such death toll in recent history.
New Delhi saw 43 degrees C (or over 109 degrees Fahrenheit) today, western states such as Gujarat saw highs between 116-118 degrees Fahrenheit, and the northern state of Uttar Pradesh hit 45 C (113 F). This state is one of the nation’s poorest, with 190 million people. Its energy infrastructure is inadequate to the demand of so many residents trying to cool themselves. Since pumps are often required to provide water, this also means that a power outage comes with a water outage. Angry residents attacked power company officials and even set fire to a power station. For the rest of the population, power outages combined with humidity caused most people to stay indoors.
India’s neighbor Pakistan has responded to its own extreme heat by turning off the air conditioning government offices and telling civil servants not to wear socks.
The government may be moving to include heat waves as natural disasters covered by the National Disaster Relief Fund, which provides financial compensation for victims’ families.
It isn’t just the daily highs during a heat wave that cause suffering, the daily lows are also dangerous. State capital Jaipur saw a low of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, well above average.
Kanpur resident Bholanath Paul said, according to Newstrack India: “Summers are always difficult but usually the temperatures come down in the evenings. But this time even that is not happening. It remains hot during the night too.”
One odd development: fruit prices dropped as sellers tried to clear out their inventory in anticipation of food spoilage.
Tourist Eijaz Ahmed came to India to escape the heat in Mumbai, and instead found record-breaking heat no matter where he went: “I am here with my family and have come from Mumbai to enjoy the cold weather, but it is very hot right now.”
Rain has been sporadic and though some regions have found some relief from the heat, millions are baking in the record temperatures. Monsoon season begins on June 15, which could bring some relief from the heat.
Only China, the United States, and the European Union emit more greenhouse gases than India. Coal is India’s primary source of energy, and aside from deaths related to heat waves, 100,000 Indians die each year from coal-fired power plant pollution.
Extreme heat waves continue to happen all over the world, as Australia saw in January, and as a report predicted earlier this year will be the norm for Washington, DC. Increasing heat waves driven by climate change bring with them larger numbers of temperature-related deaths — as recent research predicted for New York City over the next decade.
One way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and at the same time allow Indians some independence from electrical blackouts is to increase the use of solar energy. As India’s grid is fairly distributed in nature already, employing more solar in place of coal plants and dirty household fossil fuel generators is a seriously viable option to give Indians some relief.