INDIA: Millions of Indians are suffering from a severe heatwave that is disrupting their lives and businesses, with no sign of relief in sight.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded state chief ministers that “temperatures are fast rising in the country, and rising considerably earlier than typical.”
While heatwaves are usual in India, particularly in May and June, this year’s summer started early, with high temperatures as early as March. The month’s average maximum temperatures were the highest in 122 years.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicts a steady rise in maximum temperatures of 2-4 degrees Celsius this week across most of northwestern and central India, with “no significant change thereafter.”
Early heatwaves this year have struck roughly 15 states, according to the Centre for Science and Environment, including the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, which is known for its moderate temperatures.
The temperature in Delhi, the capital, is projected to reach 44-46 degrees Celsius this week.
In March, anticyclones, which are areas of high atmospheric pressure where the air descends, brought hot, dry weather to parts of western India.
Farmers say the unexpected temperature rises have harmed their wheat harvest, which might have worldwide implications given supply bottlenecks caused by the Ukraine conflict.
The heat has also increased power demand, resulting in disruptions in many states and concerns about a coal shortage. PM Modi also warned about the increasing risk of flames as temperatures rise.
Summers in many parts of India, particularly in the north and central regions, have traditionally been brutal. People had found their means of coping with the heat long before air conditioners and water coolers began selling in the millions – from keeping water cool in earthen jars to applying raw mangoes on their bodies to avoid heat strokes.
However, many scientists believe that India is currently seeing more intense, frequent, and longer-lasting heat waves.
Rajasthan, in India’s northwest, has scheduled four hours of factory power outages, making it at least the third state to halt industrial production in response to rising power demand during a scorching heatwave.
This week, extreme heat scorched huge swaths of south Asia, delivering no respite following India’s warmest March on record.
India is also racing for coal, the most common fuel used in energy generation, due to a rapid increase in demand. Electricity consumption is expected to rise at the quickest rate in nearly four decades, with coal inventories at their lowest levels in at least nine years.
Meanwhile, the problem is being exacerbated by a railway scarcity, with India’s power secretary informing a court-ordered hearing this week that train availability was 6% lower than required.