Why India’s heat wave has been so devastating

A deadly heat wave that has engulfed parts of India in the last month has taken more than 2000* lives, and affected millions of people. With no respite from the blazing sun, RIFAT MOHIDIN looks at why the heat wave is having such a devastating effect. 

1. Over 1,000 dead
The south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh has been worst affected by the heat – authorities say 852 people have died there in the heat wave. Another 266 have died in the neighbouring state of Telangana, and there are still more unconfirmed heat-related deaths across the country. The Indian government has announced it will pay compensation of 100,000 rupees (R18,933.47) to the kin of those who have died.

2. Heat stroke on the rise
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the two major risks posed by high-temperature conditions. Heat stroke can cause nausea and cramps, lead to a rapid rise in body temperature – and prove fatal if not treated promptly. Many Indians have suffered heat stroke and hospitals are being put on high alert for incoming patients. The government has cancelled the leave of all doctors as hospitals have been flooded with cases.

3. Death by heat – and poverty
India is home to one-third of the 1.2-billion people in the world who live in extreme poverty. Millions of Indians are homeless and live on the streets. For people who cannot be sure of a proper meal each day and live in rudimentary shelters, air conditioning and even fans are a distant dream. Most of those who have died so far are poor people who suffered from dehydration, as they were unable to cope with rising temperatures.

4. Poor infrastructure
India does not have the infrastructures to deal with blistering sun – in some parts of the country, roads have begun to melt in the heat. In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal state where four deaths have been reported, taxi drivers have refused to work between 11am and 4pm after two cab drivers died in their cars last week. In addition, the already stretched electricity network has been struggling to meet demand, with cities facing power cuts of up to 10 hours.

5. It’s getting hotter
The Indian Meteorological Department has issued a red alert to the affected regions of Andra Pradesh, Telagana, and New Delhi, as well as in North Eastern states, saying that the heat wave is likely to continue over the coming days. The heat has also delayed India’s monsoon season, and this could potentially dry out reservoirs, prompting hydrostations to cut energy generation. The monsoon, predicted to hit southern India’s coastline on Sunday, could bring some relief from the high temperatures, the weather officials have said.

– Featured image: By Quoique via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the latest death toll.