How the next heat wave could be really bad news for India
- Introduction: what the news is
- What is a heat wave?
- How Indian summers have taken a toll for the worse
- What is the human survivability limit?
- How is India dealing with heat waves?
- How you can make a difference
Sit down for a chat with any of your grandparents or even parents regarding the weather and a not-so-surprising pattern emerges: most of the older generations will agree something has changed. Harsh short winters. Blistering summers. Erratic monsoons. Globally, we’re seeing a significant change in weather patterns.
What does it mean for all of us, in India? It turns out, we’re more affected by weather changes, as is the case with most third-world countries. In fact, according to the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water, 8 out of 10 people in India are vulnerable to extreme climates.
Turning Up the Heat
A recent World Bank report revealed some scintillating news.
“Soon India could become one of the first places in the world to experience heatwaves that break the human survivability limit.”
Now, there are a couple of points in this statement worth understanding in greater detail - heatwaves and the human survivability limit. Let’s get into it then!
What even is a heatwave?
“The World Meteorological Organization defines a heat wave as five or more consecutive days of prolonged heat in which the daily maximum temperature is higher than the average maximum temperature by 5 °C (9 °F) or more.”
A heatwave is the result of a high-pressure system; high pressure in the atmosphere forces hot air downwards and traps it. As a result, rain cannot form and the hot air keeps getting hotter.
Are heatwaves a result of climate change?
Yes and no. Heatwaves are extreme weather events but they have been around for some time and are a normal occurrence, to an extent. However, since the 1950s they’ve become a lot more intense and frequent.
According to our Ministry of Earth Sciences, the frequency of warm extremes over India has increased during 1951–2015, with accelerated warming trends during the recent 30-year period 1986–2015 (high confidence). Significant warming is observed for the warmest day, warmest night, and coldest night since 1986.
As a result, Indian summers are taking a toll for the worse, year by year.
Facing the heat
On the face of it, a heatwave doesn’t seem that bad. It’s just hot weather, right? Wrong.
- Health: Heatwaves can have catastrophic effects on human health, even leading to hospitalization or death. More than 6,500 have died from heat in India since 2010.
- Agriculture: Both plant growth and livestock health are negatively affected by high temperatures. Last year, up to 30% of India’s wheat supply was lost.
- Natural disaster: Often, heatwaves act as triggers for other environmental disasters such as droughts and wildfires.
- Infrastructure: Hot atmospheric temperatures buckle and melt roads and highways, impact transformers, burst water lines, and even damage railroads.
- Power outages: The sharp increase in temperatures result in increased electrical consumption, which might lead to power outages. Air conditioners are also linked to GHG emissions.
The Great Indian Summer
Summer temperatures in India have been steadily increasing over the years. Last year, March was the hottest in India since records began 122 years ago and in Pakistan, the highest worldwide positive temperature anomaly during March was recorded and many individual weather stations recorded monthly all-time highs through the month
Climate change is certainly at the center of this, with a report claiming extreme heat in India and Pakistan was made 30 times more likely because of it.