Extremes Update: India Heatwave Killing Thousands
May 29, 2015
LUCKNOW: The intense heat wave condition that is sweeping across India currently could be another manifestation of an extreme weather event, said researchers from the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in a statement on Thursday. About 2,000 people have been killed in India by this weather condition. In the worst-affected states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, maximum temperatures have hovered around a searing 45 degrees Celsius.
According to Arjuna Srinidhi, programme manager, climate change, CSE: “Urban heat island effects can make ambient temperatures feel 3 to 4 degrees more than what they are.” Srinidhi added “Compared to 2010, heat wave conditions in 2015 so far have been of a shorter duration, yet with a higher death toll. This could be due to the sudden change in temperatures after a prolonged wet February and March that had kept the temperatures cool.”
Climate records show that human-induced global warming had turned 2014 into the hottest year on record. Eight out of the 10 warmest years in India were during the recent past decade (2001-2010), making it the warmest decade on record with a decadal mean temperature anomaly of 0.49 °C.
CSE climate researchers say more heat waves were expected as globally temperatures had risen by an average 0.8 degrees in the past 100 years. Night-time temperatures are rising too, with Ahmedabad and Delhi recently reporting 39 and 36 degrees centigrade. “The number of heat wave days may go up from about 5 to between 30 and 40 every year,” they add.
There is also enough evidence of extreme weather events being on the rise. “This year, we saw the wettest March in about 50 years, and we have already seen the second major flood in Kashmir in a period of six months. These are all extreme weather events,” says Srinidhi.
Surfaces of some roads in Delhi have melted in the sun, twisting the paintwork of pedestrian crossings into unusual patterns.
Temperatures often rise sharply in May before the onset of torrential monsoon rains but scientists say average temperatures are only likely to rise in the years ahead as a result of global warming, with damaging effects on health and productivity.
Ramanan Laxminarayan, vice-president for research and policy at the Public Health Foundation of India, said such extreme weather events were early signs of climate change, “and obviously for a population that has no access to air conditioning this is going to be a recurrent phenomenon”.
India, according to risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, “is likely to experience some of the most significant global increases in heat stress as a result of climate change over the next 30 years”.
Heat stress, defined by using a combined measure of temperature and humidity, is expected to rise sharply by mid-century, with heat stress days rising from 200 to 250 in Andhra Pradesh and from 180 to 231 in Telangana. “Without action, these figures could reduce labour capacity in these states by more than 25 per cent over the next 30 years,” according to an analysis the consultancy issued this week.