New Delhi, India – Construction worker Gujral Singh tears up as he voices his concerns about tiling in India’s searing heat this summer.
Tens of millions of Indians struggling to cope with a relentless heatwave, with temperatures in some regions the hottest in more than 120 years in this South Asian nation.
“It is becoming unattainable for me to accomplish my job,” Singh, 47, a father of two, told Al Jazeera. “I could effectively do the work the previous summer. I fainted a couple of times already during this summer. I don’t know how I will meet the end needs of my family. ”
Pravesh Solanki, 32, another construction laborer, echoed the comments but noted the challenges of working outdoors in the extreme heat.
“We are young and full of energy. Still, we hold for a breather after every half an hour, which we used to take after an hour or two. This summer is extraordinarily pinching us, ”said Solanki.
Addressing a recent press gathering, India Meteorological Department (IMD) Director-General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said central and northwest India faced the most sizzling temperatures in 122 years in April.
This year has seen a rise in maximum temperatures by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 Fahrenheit) over those areas, and there will be no respiration from the heat in May, IMD said.
‘Duration, intensity, and frequency’
Heatwaves – with temperatures ranging from 43 ° C to 46 ° C – are prevailing in 15 Indian states, including New Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat.
Surface land temperatures, meanwhile, have exceeded 60 ° C over some parts of northwest India, according to satellite data.
“The extreme climate events are due to climate instability. Nowadays, there are extremes whether it is heat, cold, floods or drought. This will happen more often than earlier because of climate change. The duration, intensity, and frequency will also rise in the future, ”Akhilesh Gupta, head of the Climate Change Program at India’s Department of Science & Technology, told Al Jazeera.
Gupta said while global climate change is mainly responsible, local factors are contributing to the unprecedented heat.
“We also have local issues like the high emissions due to which regional ‘heat island’ is created. Heat islands are the parts of a city which are warmer than others. So, internationally global warming and locally heat islands are responsible for such heatwaves, ”he added.
The threat to people’s health is inherently dangerous in India.
“The heatwaves are fatal for public health and the economy. It also puts the ecosystem at risk, ”said Avinash Chanchal, campaign manager at Greenpeace India.
“We have been witnessing the increased rate of hospitalizations as well as fatalities as a result of heatwaves. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable communities are more vulnerable than others. ”
The government must intervene to help the urban poor, outdoor workers, women, children, and senior citizens who are at higher risk from extreme heat.
“Especially the state and city authorities must strengthen the public health system, coordinated with meteorological early warning systems to ensure timely medical advice to its citizens.”
The heatwave has severely impacted the agriculture sector in India, causing wheat crops to shrivel in states such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, collectively called India’s food bowl.
“The high temperature this season didn’t allow the wheat to grow for a complete period,” said Tinku Yadav, 23, a farmer in Haryana.
“Earlier, the wheat would be harvested by the end of April or the beginning of May, but during this season the wheat grains were harvested at the end of March and early April. My yield, which was Last 22 to 24 quintals (2.2 to 2.4 tonnes) per acre last summer, has been reduced to just 16 to 18 quintals (1.6 to 1.8 tonnes). ”
Pushed to the brink
India is one of the most “heat-stressed” nations in the world and increasing temperatures will only make it worse for the workforce toiling outside, say researchers.
India lost 259 billion hours of labor annually between 2001 and 2020 because of the effects of humid heat, according to a study by Duke University.
“Because of its large population, India is expected to lose the equivalent of 34 million full-time jobs in 2030,” reported International Labor Organization.
“Although in India, it will be felt in the agricultural sector,” he said.
Gardener Surajmal Singh, 53, has cycled to work and back home every day for the last 20 years – overall a 50km (31-mile) journey each day.
He said that it is too hard for him during the sweltering summer temperatures. “In the last few years, the heat has increased too much. I never halted my bicycle in between [the ride]but now I have a rest to drink water and cool off. ”
Satendra Kumar, 32, a food delivery worker, expressed his concern for the future. “This is just the beginning of summer and the heat feels like June or July… ”
India will be seriously harmed if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut, warned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report. India is described as potentially the most “economically harmed” because of extreme weather events. The current heatwave is also part of that change, climate experts say.
“For the last many years, people have been experiencing it in the form of heatwaves. We have enough science to link such extreme weather events to climate change, ”Chanchal said.
G Ramesh, a weather scientist and retired director-general of India Meteorological Department, confirmed global warming is to blame for recent events in India.
“Heatwaves are common, every summer India suffers from heatwaves, but this time it is earlier than usual,” he said. “The primary reason for this is global warming. Global warming is accelerating climate change because we have already crossed 1.2 ° C of pre-industrial era warming. ”
With Earth heating up, polar ice is thinning out. In the Arctic, sunlight was previously reflected back into the atmosphere. But because of thinning ice, the Arctic Sea is now absorbing the heat.
“This is changing the whole circulation pattern, especially from polar regions, which is likely to accelerate the warming and cooling seasonal patterns,” Ramesh told Al Jazeera.
“Where ice is melted in the non-oceanic Arctic region, below the ice methane will emit… So multiple things are happening. Earth’s system is bound to respond to these global and local changes. That is why the heatwaves are happening earlier. We need to be ready to face them even more in the coming years. ”
Chanchal said adaptation plans must be developed now to deal with India’s weather extremes.
“Urban planning must take measures for vegetation plantations, including rooftop gardening and community nutritional gardens, increase green spaces, and conserve the water bodies,” he said.
“At the same time government, corporations, and society need to prioritize transition in energy, agriculture, and other sectors to tackle climate change. Phasing out the burning [of] fossil fuels – including energy and transportation systems – the public health and future generations need to implement