New Delhi: India is in the grip of a monstrous pre-monsoon heatwave that has killed more than 160 people in recent weeks. The majority of deaths have been in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, but soaring temperatures have compounded ongoing drought and water shortages across the country and threaten to impact as many as 330 million people, according to figures the Indian government reported to the Supreme Court.
The hottest summer months in India tend to be May and June, so the current spell in April has officials concerned about a spike in heat-related deaths. Last year, a heatwave claimed 2,422 lives in India, the highest heat-related death toll in more than two decades. In neighbouring Pakistan, which suffered its worst heat spell in 2015, authorities have moved to open 500 response centres that would provide shelter and cold water, according to Reuters.
Many of the dead have included labourers and poor farmers who have no choice but to work outside in blistering conditions, with temperatures routinely exceeding 100 degree Fahrenheit (37.7 degree Celsius).
Authorities in some Indian states have issued warnings for people to stay indoors, banned construction during the hottest times of the day and ordered some schools to extend their summer holidays so that children aren’t exposed to the weather.
Heatwaves have caused some 22,562 deaths in India since 1992, with numbers by and large rising in recent years. Senior government officials pointed to the effect of climate change last year; the 2015 heatwave is considered the fifth worst in recorded history.
“Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heatwave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” said the Indian minister for science, technology and earth sciences, Harsh Vardhan, last June. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change.”