India and Pakistan are experiencing exceptional heat waves this year, with peaks of 50°C in some places, leading to water shortages and power cuts. Schools also had to close and the medical service and fire brigade are at war.
Record temperatures of 35.9°C to 37.78°C have been recorded in northwestern and central India, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director-general of the meteorology department, told reporters. These are the highest recorded temperatures since the department began recording 122 years ago.
The worst is yet to come…
A record heat wave has hit India and Pakistan, causing power cuts and water shortages for millions of people who are expected to increasingly be affected by this furnace in the future, climate change experts said.
The temperature in Delhi approached 46 degrees Celsius on Thursday. And this extreme heat wave is expected to last five more days in northwestern and central India and into the east until the end of the week, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen such heat in April,” exclaimed Dara Singh, 65, who has been running a small street shop in Delhi since 1978. “The betel leaves I use to sell the paan (chewing tobacco, editor’s note) spoil faster than usual. This usually happens around May, at the height of summer.”
In northwestern India, Rajasthan, western Gujarat and southern Andhra Pradesh, factories have imposed power cuts to reduce consumption. According to press reports, major power plants are facing coal shortages.
Several regions in the country of 1.4 billion people reported a drop in water supplies that will only get worse until the annual monsoon rains in June and July.
In March, Delhi experienced a maximum temperature of 40.1 degrees, the highest temperature on record since 1946.
Waves “hotter and more dangerous”
Heat waves have killed more than 6,500 people in India since 2010. Scientists say that climate change makes them more common, but also more serious.
“Climate change makes high temperatures in India more likely,” said Dr Mariam Zachariah of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London.
“Before human activities raised the Earth’s temperature, heat like it hit India earlier this month would have been observed only about once every 50 years,” the expert added.
“We can now expect such high temperatures about once every four years,” she warns.
For his colleague, Dr. Friederike Otto, lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute, “Heat waves in India and elsewhere will continue to get hotter and more dangerous until net greenhouse gas emissions stop.”
“Temperatures are rising rapidly across the country and much earlier than usual,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, the day after a fire broke out at the 60-meter-high Bhalswa rubbish heap in northern Delhi.
According to a fire department official in the capital, firefighters were still fighting the blaze on Thursday, whose thick smoke was exacerbating air pollution, hoping to bring it under control by Friday.
Three other fires broke out in less than a month at the largest garbage dump in the capital, Ghazipur, a gigantic mountain of waste 65 meters high.
48 degrees in Pakistan
The megapolis of more than 20 million inhabitants has no modern infrastructure to handle the 12,000 tons of waste it produces every day. According to Pradeep Khandelwal, former head of Delhi’s waste management department, all of these fires are likely caused by extremely high temperatures that accelerate the decomposition of organic waste.
Neighboring Pakistan also faced extreme heat on Thursday, which is expected to last into next week. Temperatures in parts of the country are expected to be 8 degrees above normal, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Society, with a peak of 48 degrees in parts of rural Sindh on Wednesday.
Farmers will need to use water wisely in this country where agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, employs about 40% of the total workforce.
“The country’s public health and agriculture will be seriously threatened by this year’s extreme temperatures,” Climate Change Secretary Sherry Rehman said.
March was the warmest since 1961, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Bureau.
Running out of electricity
Power cuts in India and Pakistan on Friday worsened the living conditions of millions of residents, who are already overwhelmed by this record heat wave. The unusually warm March and April boosted energy demand in India, especially Pakistan, so that power plants are now running out of coal to meet demand.
Several Pakistani cities experienced power cuts for up to eight hours a day last week, while rural areas experienced power cuts for half the day.
“There is an electricity crisis and a power outage across the country,” said Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan, referring to shortages and “technical breakdowns”.
However, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Society, temperatures in parts of Pakistan are expected to be 8 degrees above the seasonal normal, peaking at 48 degrees in parts of rural Sindh on Wednesday.
In the Indian megalopolis of New Delhi, where temperatures reached 43.5°C on Friday, authorities estimate that many power stations have “less than a day’s worth of coal”. “The situation across India is dire,” said Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, who warned of possible cutbacks to hospitals and the capital’s metro.
According to Bloomberg News, India has even canceled some passenger trains to speed up the delivery of coal to power plants. Indeed, Indian power plant coal reserves have fallen by nearly 17% since early April, to just a third of the required level, the same source said.
Forests in as
In Calcutta, eastern India, sugar water was distributed to passengers on public transport after a series of illnesses.
“More than 57 days without rain, Kolkata is in the throes of the longest drought in this millennium,” said Sanjit Bandyopadhyay of the Regional Meteorological Center.
At this time of year, in the highlands of Himachal Pradesh state, there is normally rain, hail and even snow, but not a drop of water for two months and record-breaking temperatures. As a result, hundreds of fires have reduced pine forests to ashes, especially around Dharamsala, the city where the Dalai Lama lives.
“Most of these fires are ground fires that spread through the pine forests, which are the most vulnerable to fires,” state forest manager Ajay Srivastava told AFP.
“Teams of firefighters are working hard to put out these fires and also to save wild animals,” he added, adding that emergency services had to ask for help from local residents.
(with AFP, Bloomberg and Reuters)