Sunday 2 June 2024

More than sixty dead in Indian heatwave.

More than sixty people have died in a heatwave affecting northern and central India this week. Sustained temperatures in excess of 45°C have been recorded across much of the region, with some areas experiencing peaks in excess of 50°C, although a record-breaking 52.9°C temperature recorded in Delhi on Wednesday 29 May 2024 has now been confirmed to have been erroneous; the correct temperature should have been a comparatively 'mild' 49.9°C.

A patient being treated for heatstroke in a hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, this week. Reuters.

At least 23 of the people who have died are reported to have been election officials, obliged to remain at their posts, often outdoors in direct sunlight, throughout the day while polls are carried out. In Odisha State twenty-six people have died of suspected heat-related conditions, many of them truck-drivers who remained in hot vehicles. In Bihar State fourteen people are reported to have died of heat-related conditions, including ten polling officials. In Uttar Pradesh thirteen people have died of heat related conditions. Eight people have been confirmed to have died of heat-related conditions in Jharkhand, with more than 1300 others hospitalised. Four people are reported to have died of heat-related conditions in Rajasthan. 

Residents of Delhi queueing to collect water from a tanker this week. Getty Images.

Many areas of India, including Delhi are also suffering from extreme water-shortages at the moment, hampering people's efforts to keep hydrated in the extreme heat. The combination of extreme heat and drought has led to forest fires raging across parts of northern India and neighbouring Pakistan (where temperatures in excess of 52°C have been recorded in several places this week). The monsoon rains are reported to have arrived in Kerala on Friday 31 May, which may bring some relief to central parts of the country, though the heatwave in the north is predicted to continue for another week. This year's monsoon is also expected to be particularly severe, driven by the high temperatures, and will likely bring a new set of problems.

A forest fire in Uttarakhand on Wednesday 29 May 2024. Press Trust of India.

The high temperatures experienced in the past year have been linked to a combination of anthropogenic global warming, driven by emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, with an El Niño - Southern Oscillation climate system over the Pacific Ocean, a natural phenomenon which also tends to drive temperatures upwards. However, the El Niño system appears to have been weakening over the past months, with sea surface temperatures over the eastern equatorial Pacific actually being lower than the average for 1990-2020, while global temperatures have continued to rise, suggesting that the El Niño system may be playing as large a role in driving this year's high temperatures as previously assumed.

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