Climate

Extreme Heat Wave In India Is Killing People And Melting Roads

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

An Indian man takes bath under the tap of a water tanker on a hot day in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, May 21, 2015.

UPDATE

As of Thursday, the death toll from India’s heat wave has risen to nearly 1,400. Meteorological officials expect the heat to last several more days. This post has been updated to reflect this change.

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A blistering heat wave in India has killed nearly 1,400 people in the country in less than one week.

At least 1,020 people have died in Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India, while 340 people have died in the adjacent state of Telangana. In northeastern West Bengal and Orissa, at least 24 people have died. Most of the deaths, according to officials, have been among construction workers, the elderly, and the homeless — people who are typically most exposed to high heat and who don’t have access to air conditioning.

“Almost all the victims are old,” said B.R. Meena, principle secretary for revenue for Telangana. “Inquiries reveal that most of them were working and were exposed to the heat. Dehydration and heat stroke caused the deaths.”

In some regions, temperatures have reached a scorching 122°F — heat that’s melted sections of roads in some cities and that’s close, according to the Guardian, to the country’s all-time high of 123°F. Parts of the country had slightly lower temperatures, but the heat was exacerbated by high humidity: in Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, temperatures reached 110.3°F, with relative humidity of 70 percent. Delhi announced Monday that it had reached its hottest temperature of the season of 113°F.

An Indian man rests near a dog under an over head bridge on a hot day at a wholesale market in Ahmadabad, India, Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

An Indian man rests near a dog under an over head bridge on a hot day at a wholesale market in Ahmadabad, India, Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

Officials in Andhra Pradesh have taken steps to try to minimize the impact of the heat wave.

“The state government has taken up education programmes through television and other media to tell people not to venture into the outside without a cap, to drink water and other measures,” P. Tulsi Rani, special commissioner for disaster management in Andhra Pradesh, said. “We have also requested NGOs and government organisations to open up drinking water camps so that water will be readily available for all the people in the towns.”

India’s government has promised to provide monetary compensation to families of the dead, and officials have warned Indians in the hardest-hit regions to stay indoors and drink lots of water. Staying indoors won’t provide much relief to the third of India’s population who don’t have electricity, however.

An Indian auto rickshaw driver rests on a hot summer day in Hyderabad, India, Monday, May 25, 2015.

An Indian auto rickshaw driver rests on a hot summer day in Hyderabad, India, Monday, May 25, 2015.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.

But those in India who do have power are putting strain on the nation’s electrical grid with their high use of air conditioning and fans. In Delhi, high temperatures — and subsequent high usage of air conditioning — have led to fears of power cuts in the city and in other regions where mercury has soared. Power cuts are a common fear in India, where aging infrastructure is struggling to keep up with a populace that’s increasingly installing air conditioners and other electric machines. Indians have dealt with major power outages before: in July 2012, one of the worst blackouts in recent years left 700 million people without power. Solar power, however, could help improve the country’s grid reliability.

Indian rickshaw pullers sleep in their rickshaws on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Indian rickshaw pullers sleep in their rickshaws on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, Thursday, May 21, 2015.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manish Swarup

Meteorologists are predicting that India will endure a few more days of extreme heat before getting some relief. Even after temperatures drop later this week, they’ll likely spike again, though in the next few weeks, the country should see some sustained relief from the monsoon rains.

India is no stranger to heat waves. In 2010, the country also endured a major wave of high temperatures that killed hundreds of people. In 2013, too, intense heat claimed the lives of more than 500 people in the country. And climate change — which is contributing to extreme heat around the world — has already contributed to an increase in heat waves between 1961 and 2010.