On Sunday, June 2, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a heatwave warning for the next five days of this summer season. The IMD says North India, especially Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana will be experiencing “severe heatwave conditions”, including a maximum temperature of over 50º Celsius.
“Yesterday, severe heatwave conditions were observed in some parts over west Rajasthan and in isolated pockets over east Rajasthan and east Uttar Pradesh; heatwave conditions were observed in many parts over Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, and Delhi, in some parts over Madhya Pradesh, and in isolated pockets over west Rajasthan, south Uttar Pradesh, Vidarbha, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir,” said the IMD.
In west Rajasthan and some areas of Himachal Pradesh, the temperature has been hovering at a scorching 50.8ºC and around 42ºC, respectively; this is about 3 to 5º hotter than normal. In Churu, Rajasthan, that logged over 50ºC, a farmer died due to a sunstroke.
As of Sunday, Churu and Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan were the hottest places in the world.
Even in South India’s Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, and East India’s Manipur and Mizoram, temperatures increased by 3 to 6ºC on Sunday. Overall, temperatures across India have been soaring above 45ºC, said the IMD.
Kerala has been on a heatwave alert since March, after 288 cases of heatstroke were recorded. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the IMD has issued a red warning as severe heatwaves conditions are expected to impact vulnerable people and persist until tomorrow.
In Bengaluru, dehydrated birds were seen dropping from the sky in March as temperatures touched 37ºC from the city’s usual average of 26ºC.
Delhi has also recorded heatwave temperatures with a high of 42.5ºC. An IMD official said that Delhi will get relief from the “possibility of thundery development” Tuesday onwards.
What is a heatwave?
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) explains that a heatwave is a period of abnormally high temperatures during the summer months in north and north-western India. These usually occur in March, June, and July.
In general, the IMD has three criteria before declaring heatwaves—if at least two stations record a maximum temperature of at least or over 40ºC in the plains, 37ºC on the coast, and 30ºC in the hills for two consecutive days.
Moreover, a 4.5ºC to 6.4ºC departure from normal is considered a “heatwave”, while a larger departure is considered a “severe heatwave”.
One of India’s deadliest heatwaves was in 2015 in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana when around 2,600 people died. Even during the heatwave between 2002 and 2003, around 3,000 people died in these two states. The Lok Sabha also declared 2018 the sixth warmest year since 1901.
What causes a heatwave?
Residents, particularly in hilly regions, credit the high temperatures to deforestation and unregulated construction.
D N Khanna who spoke to FirstPost said, “We have lost thousands of trees in the name of development. Earlier, the drive between Shimla and Kalka was a joy; there were so many fresh water springs, all of which have now dried up. Our homes, then called matkanda, were built with hollow walls, and every house had a high ceiling with ventilators in all the rooms. Himachal supplies water to Delhi, but the people here are getting water every fifth day. We have no choice but to suffer in this heat.”
Heatwaves are also symptoms of global warming and climate change.
Down to Earth finds that urban areas feel very warm during heatwaves because of the lack of greenery and heat absorption tendencies of paved, concrete areas—a phenomenon called the “urban heat island effect”.
Along with high temperatures, air pollution, deforestation, water shortage, and poor access to healthcare make heatwaves a serious public health concern during the summer. The WHO estimates that, by 2050, over 255,000 people will have died because of heatwaves.
How to stay cool in a heatwave
Such extreme temperatures that accompany a heatwave trigger serious health issues, including exhaustion, dehydration, heatstroke, and even death. Moreover, cities and fields face water shortages and drought-like conditions.
NDMA says that swelling, fainting, nausea, muscle cramps, and more serious comas, delirium, and seizures are also risks that come with heatwaves.
It recommends staying indoors between noon and 3 pm, drinking water and hydrating drinks like lassi and ORS even if you’re not thirsty, and keeping your home cool and shaded. If you travel, the government urges you to wear light-weight and -coloured cotton clothing with protective elements, like sunglasses and hats, carry water with you, and avoid strenuous activity.
If someone around you has suffered a heatstroke, the NDMA says to place them in a cool, shaded area, wipe their body with a wet cloth, and pour water on their head to cool down their body temperature. The patient then needs emergency care at a hospital or clinic.
The NDMA has also launched a Heat Action Plan that states can follow to mitigate the impact of heatwaves.
The India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) released by former minister for Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Dr. Harsh Vardhan is targeted at cooling the country while lowering its energy demand or moving it in a more sustainable direction. The ICAP aims to reduce refrigerant and cooling demand by 20% to 30% and training technicians to better service the environmental protection agencies.
While rising temperatures are a serious issue in India, the Guardian reports that heatwave-related deaths are actually declining. Experts have attributed this positive news to growing healthcare literacy and effective policy changes, such as open entry into public gardens, better training for medical staff, and heat-reflective paint.
The southwest monsoon that was previously delayed is now due to arrive in Kerala in three days, on June 6.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.