By Ashwin Chandrasekhar
This summer, India witnessed its second deadliest heat wave on record – over 2,500 people died due to scorching temperatures.
India’s heat waves are part of a climate change-driven cycle. Records over the last 10 years show that heat waves are happening in India more frequently than ever before. Globally, land areas affected by heat waves are expected to double by 2020. A heat wave is a period of abnormally hot – and usually humid – weather, where the daily maximum temperature exceeds historical average temperatures for the season in a given area by at least five degrees Celsius. Unlike other disasters, heat kills silently and slowly – the effects of climate change are subtle, unlike other weather events like hurricanes or floods, and often do not jumpstart the necessary measures to save lives.
When temperatures rise, India’s poor are most affected and least able to cope. Between 1979 and 1999, Punjab state withstood 17 heat waves, while Odisha state witnessed 15. However, in the much less developed Odisha State the death toll was five times higher than in Punjab.
Preparedness is Crucial for Resilience in the Next Wave
Now that the monsoons have reached India, albeit late, it is worth considering how India can prepare for the next heat wave. Long-term investment in preparedness will not only save lives, it will also help minimize the economic costs – for example, reduced income combined with unexpected healthcare costs for vulnerable populations, and crop losses from continued global warming that could amount to US $208 billion by 2050 for wheat, rice, and maize alone.