Millions in India, Pakistan reel under extreme heatwave
By Robin Gomes
With India and Pakistan reeling under an extreme heatwave, the two countries are working to roll out emergency action plans to save the life and health of the people, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday.
The extreme heat is impacting hundreds of millions of people in one of the most densely populated parts of the world, threatening to damage whole ecosystems.
Working closely with health and disaster management agencies, the national meteorological and hydrological departments in both countries plan to roll out heat health action plans, which have been successful in saving lives in the past few years, the United Nations weather agency said.
Extreme heat has multiple and cascading impacts not just on human health, but also on ecosystems, agriculture, water and energy supplies, and key sectors of the economy.
The unprecedented heat puts millions of blue-collar workers, including construction and farm labourers and those working on factory shop floors, at great risk. Sunstroke has claimed thousands of Indian lives over the years.
WMO reiterated its commitment to “ensuring that multi-hazard early warning services reach the most vulnerable”.
Both India and Pakistan have successful heat-health early warning systems and action plans already in place, including those specially tailored for urban areas. They reduce heat mortality and lessen the social impacts of extreme heat, including lost work productivity.
Important lessons have been learned from the past and these are now being shared among all partners of the WMO co-sponsored Global Heat Health Information Network, to enhance capacity in the hard-hit region.
The India Meteorological Department said that the intense heat will continue until 2 May and temperatures would fall after the arrival of monsoons, expected in some parts by May.
The country recorded its warmest March on record, with an average maximum temperature of 33.1 ºC, or 1.86 °C above the long-term average. Pakistan also recorded its warmest March for at least the past six decades, with a number of stations breaking March records.
In the pre-monsoon period, both India and Pakistan regularly experience excessively high temperatures, especially during May.
According to AccuWeather, the worldwide commercial weather forecasting company, it is usual for parts of India and Pakistan to have some cities among the top 10 hottest places in the world. What is unusual is that a look at 24-hour daily highs shows that all 10 hottest locations were found in the two countries.
The hottest temperature recorded on Earth at official weather stations on Thursday was 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) in Jacobabad, Pakistan’s Sindh Province. On Saturday, Accuweather showed Jacobabad hitting 49 °C (119 F).
On Friday, Banda in India’s Uttar Pradesh state registered 47.4 °C (117.3 F), the hottest in the country. On Saturday it peaked to 48 °C (119 F).
In Pakistan, glaciers in the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karkoram mountain ranges in the north have melted rapidly, creating thousands of glacial lakes. The climate ministry has warned that 30 of these lakes were at risk of sudden hazardous flash floods, with around 7 million people vulnerable.
Pakistan has just come out of weeks of political chaos that led to the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan. As Pakistan continues to grapple with huge debt, soaring inflation and a worsening energy crisis, the lead up to the religious holiday of Eid has been dampened by the intense heat and regular power cuts as most of the population refrained from eating food and drinking water during daylight hours for the fasting Ramadan. The increased demand for power from rising temperatures combined with fuel shortages and infrastructure issues is straining Pakistan's electricity system, leading to regular power cuts.
India too is facing its worst electricity shortage and power cuts in more than six years as the heatwaves and a pickup in economic activity are seen increasing electricity demand at the fastest pace in nearly four decades.
The demand for power has left India scrambling for coal, the dominant fuel accounting for 75 per cent of the country power generation. This has forced the federal government to cancel 753 passenger train services to make way for coal freight trains.
Air quality has also deteriorated, and large swathes of land are at risk of fire outbreaks.
Extreme heat parched large swathes of South Asia, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday warning of the rising fire risks as the country heats up too much too soon.
"We are seeing increasing incidents of fires in various places - in jungles, important buildings, and in hospitals - in the past few days," Modi told heads of India's state governments in an online conference.
Fires in Delhi's dump yards also contribute to the toxic air in the world's most polluted capital.
According to WMO, “it is premature to attribute the extreme heat in India and Pakistan solely to climate change,” however, the agency continues, “it is consistent with what we expect in a changing climate.” Furthermore, WMO said, heatwaves are more frequent and more intense and are starting earlier than in the past.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its recent Sixth Assessment Report, also said that heatwaves and humid heat stress would be more intense and frequent in South Asia this century.
The current heatwave was triggered by a high-pressure system and follows an extended period of above-average temperatures. (Source: WMO)