Heatwave hits over half of India, with 15 cities among world's hottest; Pune sizzles at highest temp in 50 years

Two thirds of India is gripped by a severe heat wave. Mercury has breached 45 degrees celsius across several cities. These include Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Chandigarh. Even Pune, which was regarded as a hill station saw temperatures rise to 43 degrees on 27 May. The south has not fared any better and temperatures in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have also breached the 44 degree mark.

Vidarbha in Maharashtra remains one of the worst affected regions with the weather website El Dorado highlighting that 15 cities listed as the world's warmest in April end were from central India. Nine of these cities were from Maharashtra: Chandrapur recorded the highest temperature across the world in end April with mercury touching 48 degrees, followed by Nagpur at 47.5 degrees, and Brahmpuri witnessing temperatures as high as 47.8 degrees in May end.

Heat wave also affected normal life in Rajasthan, where Bikaner recorded the highest temperature at 45.6 degrees Celsius. The maximum temperature was above 45 degrees in several parts in the state including Ganganagar, Jaisalmer and Kota.

 Heatwave hits over half of India, with 15 cities among worlds hottest; Pune sizzles at highest temp in 50 years

Representational image. Reuters

IMD expects temperatures to only rise further with summer showing its sting in the month of June. Long term data gathered from the IMD’s 103 weather gathering stations show that there has been a dramatic increase in temperatures between 1961 and 2018. Not only has the temperature risen in the range of 0.8 degree C, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of hot days in India.

This increase in the number of hot days is now also found across famous hill stations such as Shimla, Mussorie, Darjeeling, and Manali where temperatures have risen by more than five degrees in the summer months according to IMD stats. Temperature in Mussorie this year has already crossed 38 degrees.

Residents of these hill stations blame rising temperatures to unregulated construction activities and increasing deforestation which is rapidly denuding the tree cover. Eighty-year old DN Khanna who retired from Solan Brewery blames the massive tree cutting to build the four lane road between Kalka and Shimla for the present heat wave. "We have lost thousands of trees in the name of development. Earlier, the drive between Shimla and Kalka was a joy, there were so many fresh water springs which have all dried up. Our homes, then called matkanda, were built with hollow walls and every house had a high ceiling with ventilators in all the rooms. Himachal supplies water to Delhi but the people here are getting water every fifth day. We have no choice but to suffer in this heat."

The situation in Pune is worse because this city was at one time considered one of the best hill stations of Maharashtra. Hutokshi Doctor who runs an NGO in Pune said, "Three days ago, the temperature crossed 43 degrees and the IMD send out a warning that this was the hottest day the city had witnessed in the last 50 years."

Since 1992, more than 22,000 people have died as a result of exposure to extreme heat. Most of these deaths are caused by heat stroke and extreme dehydration. Doctors point out that long exposure to extreme heat raises the body temperature to such a high level that it causes the overheating of an individual's protein cells adversely impacting the individual's brain.

This heat stroke figures are alarming. The state of Kerala was put on high alert after 288 cases of sunstroke were registered in the state since 1 March 2019. The northern district of Palakkad registered four deaths due to heat stroke.

The state of Tamil Nadu has also witnessed a spike in temperatures. Chennai based R Geetha who is heading the Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam points out, "The entire eastern coast is witnessing heat wave conditions and it is daily labourers who are the worst affected. Several districts are facing water scarcity with the capital city Chennai being the worst affected. The state government is planning to set up desalination plants thereby using sea water but that will take time," she said.

Bengaluru, where summer temperatures rarely crossed 26 degrees, is presently seeing temperatures hovering at around 40 degrees as are other regions in central Karnataka. Bengaluru- based writer of children’s books Srilata Menon said, "We did not use fans two decades ago. Today, we are all using ACs. There is a huge swing between day and night temperatures. During the night there will be a thunderstorm and then in the day time it becomes very hot."

Not that the situation along the western coast is any better. Mumbai saw a temperature of over 40 degrees C on 25 March 2019 which was seven degrees above normal for the city. Writer and journalist Sherna Gandhy blames excessive concretisation for Mumbai’s woes. "We are saved by the sea breeze but as you move north, Andheri onward, the heat gets trapped in these concrete multi-storeyed buildings which is causing temperature rise."

These events mirror those of the summer of 2018 which was declared the sixth hottest summer since 1901 according to a reply given by the Minister of Environment Harsh Vardhan in the Lok Sabha on 6 February 2019.

Dr DS Pai, a scientist at IMD, warned that severe heat wave conditions are resulting in the death of thousands of people every year. He cites the example of how 1,000 people were killed by a heat wave in Andhra Pradesh in 2002 while another 1,000 people died in the state in 2010. Pai warns that environmental health catastrophes will rise if they are not kept in check.

Parsa V Ramachandra Rao, who retired as a senior executive from Indian Oil in Hyderabad remembers how, "Hyderabad was a sleepy, easy going city akin to Mysore. It was in the early 90s after the software industry took off that the city saw an indiscriminate expansion with trees being felled mercilessly. The pressure on land saw the land mafia take over lakes and ponds which used to assist in ground water recharge. Plunging ground water levels has seen water shortages and the felling of the green cover has seen temperatures rise," said Rao.

To make matters worse, nearly two thirds of the country is facing drought though scientists at IIT Gandhinagar believe 16 per cent of the country presently falls under the extreme drought category. Data released by a real-time drought monitoring platform the Drought Early Warning System released information on March 26 2019 that showed that the footprint of drought had increased four times from last year. The worst affected states were Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and parts of the north east and are home to 500 million people.

A drought of this scale will pose a lot of challenges in water availability this summer. The IMD is releasing regular precipitation data which is being used by IITs to simulate soil moisture conditions across the states.

Private weather forecaster Skymet has muddied the waters further by claiming that 2019 will see a `below normal’ monsoon warning that the months of June and July will see a weak rainfall. This is especially dampening because the Indian economy is dependent on monsoon rains.

This lack of monsoon is further accentuated with the El Nino effect which occurs in the Pacific coast of South America and is known to result in less rain and corresponding higher temperatures.

This view is in line with the findings of the eighth assessment report of the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Chanel. Scientists who have contributed to the report warn that the last three decades have been the warmest since 1850 and the situation thanks to deforestation and glacial melt is only expected to get worse.

Environmentalist Prof Vikram Soni who has done extensive studies on sustainable cities believes, "master plans for every city must be built around the carrying capacity of a city. Every city must make itself sustainable and if our cities, as they tend to do, exceed the carrying capacity, the quality of life will get affected as is happening across the footprint of India.’

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Updated Date: Jun 02, 2019 12:21:32 IST