India faces record heat waves: ‘The only reason is global warming’

The South Asian nation is bracing for temperatures to hit an all-time high, according to Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, head of the country’s meteorological service. The agency is working with states and the disaster management branch of the federal government to quickly alert people on the ground, he said in an interview in New Delhi.

The thermometer readings have already reaches 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) in central and northern India, with two months before the monsoon season which usually brings refreshing rains. They reached their highest level since 1901 last month. The heat has electrical networks tested that the air conditioners are running at full speed and wheat crops under threat. Local authorities are implementing action plans to manage health risks and even deaths, Mohapatra said.

“Why is it exceptionally hot this year? The only reason is global warming,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. “We’ve looked at the data for seventy years and the intensity, the number of heat waves is a direct response to global warming.”

India should suffer more frequent and intense heat waves, extreme rainfall and erratic monsoons over the next few decades as the planet warms, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. McKinsey estimates lost work hours due to heat waves could cause losses of up to $250 billionor 4.5% of gross domestic product by the end of the decade.

For India, the poorest super-emitter in the world, adapting to a warmer Earth is as urgent a task as reducing the emissions that warm the planet. A recent study showed a 62% increase in heat-related deaths over the past 20 years. A official assessment of climate change published in 2020 showed that the frequency and intensity of droughts and cyclones had increased significantly over the past six decades. The number of intense precipitation days and the rate at which sea levels rise more than doubled during this period.

Disasters show how countries like India, which are responsible for a relatively small amount of greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere, support the weight of climatic impacts. It means spending billions on protection instead of investing in economic development that could lift millions of people out of poverty. These countries, particularly in Africa, also tend to lack the resources to monitor and forecast the weather so that they can better prepare for extreme events.

India is investing to improve its observational data and computing capabilities to build better climate models, Mohapatra said. The country’s official meteorologist has managed to reduce the number of cyclone deaths to six in 2021, from 10,000 a year in 1999, by making more accurate short-term forecasts.

Still, the country is racing against time as more erratic weather patterns become harder to predict. “The worsening of climate change limits the predictability of events,” Mohapatra said.

For now, local governments may need to consider a range of measures to protect people from the heat, Mohapatra said. They could limit school hours to the cooler morning hours of 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., advise against agricultural and construction work in the afternoons, and provide additional support for street vendors, outdoor workers, the police and those living in the city slums without access to cooling devices. .

Thursday evening, the meteorological service issued an orange alert for the next five days for North West and Central India. The region, home to some of the most polluted air in the world, didn’t get the light summer rains that usually come in April and May to bring down temperatures and wash away dirty particles.

“IPCC projections clearly show that heat intensity is increasing and encroaching on our daily lives, and the impact is on vulnerable people who have few resources in areas where we don’t even have observations” , said Koll of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. . “We need higher resolution data and, more importantly, we need long-term policies.”

Teresa H. Sadler