(Bloomberg) – Severe heat waves in India are expected to stretch into early next month, meaning millions of people will have to endure more days of dangerous temperatures and hours-long power outages.
The South Asian nation is bracing for temperatures to hit a record high, according to Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, head of the country’s meteorological department. The agency is working with states and the disaster management branch of the federal government to quickly alert people on the ground, he said in an interview in New Delhi.
Thermometer readings have already reached 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) in central and northern India, with two months ahead of the monsoon season which usually brings refreshing rains. They reached their highest level since 1901 last month. The heat has tested power grids as air conditioners run at full speed and threaten wheat crops. Local authorities are implementing action plans to manage health risks and even deaths, Mohapatra said.
“Why is it exceptionally hot this year? The only reason is global warming,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. “We’ve looked at the data for seventy years and the intensity, the number of heat waves is a direct response to global warming.”
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, India is expected to experience more frequent and intense heat waves, extreme rainfall and erratic monsoons over the coming decades as the planet warms. warms up. McKinsey estimates that work hours lost to heat waves could result in losses of up to $250 billion, or 4.5% of gross domestic product, by the end of the decade.
For India, the world’s poorest super-emitter, adapting to a warmer Earth is as urgent a task as cutting emissions that warm the planet. A recent study showed a 62% increase in heat-related deaths over the past 20 years. An official climate change assessment published in 2020 showed that the frequency and intensity of droughts and cyclones had increased significantly over the past six decades. The number of intense precipitation days and the rate at which sea levels rise more than doubled during this period.
Disasters show how countries like India, which are responsible for relatively few greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere, often bear the brunt of climate impacts. It means spending billions on protection instead of investing in economic development that could lift millions of people out of poverty. These countries, especially in Africa, also tend to lack the resources to monitor and forecast the weather to better prepare for extreme events.
READ MORE: Africa is the continent without climate data
India is investing to improve its observational data and computing capabilities to build better climate models, Mohapatra said. The country’s official meteorologist has managed to reduce the number of cyclone deaths to six in 2021, from 10,000 a year in 1999, by making more accurate short-term forecasts.
Still, the country is racing against time as more erratic weather patterns become harder to predict. “The worsening of climate change limits the predictability of events,” Mohapatra said.
For now, local governments may need to consider a range of measures to protect people from the heat, Mohapatra said. They could limit school hours to the cooler morning hours of 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., advise against agricultural and construction work in the afternoons, and provide additional support for street vendors, outdoor workers, the police and those living in the city slums without access to cooling devices. .
On Thursday evening, the meteorological service issued an orange alert for the next five days for northwestern and central India. The region, home to some of the most polluted air in the world, didn’t get the light summer rains that usually come in April and May to bring down temperatures and wash away dirty particles. “The IPCC projections clearly show that heat intensity is increasing and encroaching on our daily lives, and the impact is on vulnerable people who have few resources in regions where we don’t even have observations” , said Koll of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology “We need higher resolution data and more importantly we need long-term policies.”
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