Thursday, November 30, 2023

Dreaded heat wave

No sooner have we crawled out from our winter blankets than the warning came that India will likely experience heat waves between March and May after the country recorded its highest ever maximum temperature in February. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the average maximum temperature in February was 29.54 degrees Celsius, the highest since 1901, when the IMD started keeping weather records. “Enhanced probability of occurrence of heat wave during March to May season is likely over many regions of Central and adjoining Northwest India”, it has warned. And on Thursday, March 9, came the news that heat wave conditions forced schools in Goa to curtail classes at Noon ~ students were sent back home as heat wave conditions in the State worsened. In August last year, the Centre had warned that the country could see more frequent heat waves in future and that average temperatures, even during the monsoon season, have been rising over the last two decades. Now, as per IMD reports, the scorching summer heat has started prematurely. The country is set to face hotter weather over the coming months, stoking concerns about a repeat of the intense heat wave experienced last year that risks damaging crops and further straining the country’s power network ~ not to speak of human fatalities. The weather office expects an enhanced probability of heat waves in most parts of the country during the three months ending May 31. If the record temperatures of the recent past are any indication, the heat wave is likely to become more intense. As widely reported, last year India experienced its hottest March in more than a century, scorching the grain harvest and forcing the Government to curb exports. Even as the monthly average maximum temperatures across the country were the highest for February since 1901, the mercury levels for are likely to be above normal in most parts except in the country, especially the peninsular region. According to some reports, the projected prolonged heat could cut India’s wheat production for a second straight year, hurting efforts to control local food costs. As it stands now, India is the second-biggest producer, just after China. IMD records show that India has experienced some of the hottest summers in recent years. In May 2016, Phalodi in Rajasthan registered 51 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded in the country. In 2021, India saw its hottest day on May 22, with the temperature touching 48 degrees Celsius in Barmer, also in Rajasthan. In 2022, Jaipur experienced a severe heat wave. Rajasthan’s capital recorded 45 degrees Celsius in April ~ a record for the city for the month. Delhi, Agra, Pilani and Rohtak are among the well-known hot cities in India, where temperatures, of late, have gone up to 43 degrees Celsius in early summer. India is said to be one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. More extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy flooding and severe drought kill thousands every year and increase economic hardships by eroding farm productivity. At the same time, it burdens the country’s energy supplies by pushing demand for fossil fuels and drying up sources of hydropower. We have had climate scientists warning us that the impact of heat waves on human health is just as significant. Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke, are becoming more common, particularly among vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and outdoor workers. In addition, heat waves can exacerbate existing health problems, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The healthcare costs associated with heat-related illnesses can be significant, particularly for vulnerable groups who may not have access to affordable healthcare. In addition, heat waves can lead to a decrease in worker productivity. As urgent as the concern over rising heat wave in the country is, experts believe that it is possible to mitigate its impact. Some of the suggestions include increase in public awareness about the impact of rising temperatures on their health, the environment and the economy, increase in use of renewable energy, improving water management (more efficient irrigation systems, better rainwater harvesting and using recycled water for non-potable purposes) and investing in infrastructure that can cope with extreme temperatures.