Farmers harvest wheat on April 14, 2022 in India. The country has just endured its hottest March since records began, according to India’s Meteorological Department, and the heat wave is continuing well into harvest time.
Vipin Kumar | Hindustan Times | fake images
An unprecedented heat wave in India exposing hundreds of millions of people to dangerous temperatures is damaging the country’s wheat harvest, which experts say could hit countries seeking to offset imports of the staple from devastated Ukraine. for the conflict.
With some states in India’s northern and central breadbasket regions seeing highs forecast to reach 120 Fahrenheit this week, observers fear a variety of long-lasting impacts, both local and international, from the heat wave.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told US President Joe Biden earlier this month that India could intervene to alleviate the deficit created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The two countries account for nearly a third of all global wheat exports, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned that the conflict could leave a 8 million to 13 million undernourished people by next year.
India’s wheat exports reach 8.7 million tons in the fiscal year ending in Marchwith the government forecasting record levels of production, some 122 million tons, in 2022.
But the country just endured its hottest March since records beganaccording to the India Meteorological Department, and the heat wave is continuing well into harvest time.
Heat wave is hitting major India wheat producing regions particularly harsh, with temperatures this week reaching 112 F in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh; 120 F in Chandigarh, Punjab; Y 109 F in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
Devendra Singh Chauhan, a farmer in Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah district, told NBC News that his wheat harvest was down 60 percent compared to normal harvests.
“In March, when the ideal temperature should gradually rise, we saw it suddenly jump from 32 C to 40 C. [90 F to 104 F]”, he said in a text message. “If these unreasonable weather patterns continue year after year, farmers will suffer greatly.”
Harjeet Singh, senior adviser at Climate Action Network International, said the heat wave would have “horrible” short-term and long-term impacts on people in India and beyond.
“[Wheat] prices will rise, and if you look at what is happening in Ukraine, with many countries relying on Indian wheat to compensate, the impact will be felt far beyond India,” Singh said.
Harish Damodaran, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, said regions that planted earlier tended to escape the worst hits to their crops. In other regions, however, high temperatures hit during the crucial “grain-filling” stage of wheat, which is critical to producing high yields.
“Temperatures skyrocketed,” he said. “It was like an electric shock, so we’re talking about yields pretty much everywhere going down 15 to 20 percent.”
“I don’t know if India will be able to meet export demand because it will create domestic supply problems as wheat prices will go up,” Damodaran added. “India cannot replace Russia and Ukraine with its wheat exports, mainly due to this heat stroke.”
Monika Tothova, an economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, was more measured. She said that although the heat wave would likely cause some “localized crop losses… a significant impact on the world market is not implied.”
She said India still had good wheat reserves and could “at least partially” cover some supply shortfalls due to the situation in Ukraine.
Scientists also raised concerns about the human toll of India’s extreme heat wave.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a bombshell February report he said global warming meant that hundreds of millions were already or would soon be at risk of exposure to extreme heat, depending on carbon emissions.
By 2100, he said half to three quarters of humanity it would be exposed “to periods of life-threatening weather conditions arising from the combined impacts of extreme heat and humidity.”
Chandni Singh, an environmental social scientist at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, said that while the heat wave may not produce a headline-grabbing death toll, the damage from this and future hot spells would be significant.
“People in informal settlements or those who work outdoors with a lot of labour, are the most affected, with few options or resources to cool their homes,” he said.
The UN projected a short-term rise in temperature and humidity across the Indian subcontinent due to climate change. This means that hundreds of millions could face higher so-called wet bulb temperatures, in which the air cannot be cooled by evaporating water and perspiration alone cannot cool the human body.
It cannot survive a wet bulb temperature of 95 F for more than six hours, even for healthy adults resting in the shade.
“I am more concerned about the impacts this will have on informal livelihoods in cities that often take place in cramped, poorly ventilated spaces, often from people’s homes,” Singh said.
Roxy Mathew Koll, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and IPCC lead author, said that while more research was needed to link the current heat wave directly to climate change, “the root cause of the increase in heat waves in the Indo-Pakistani region is global warming due to man-made carbon emissions.”
He said some Indian cities had learned lessons from previous deadly heat waves, such as limiting office hours and putting in place early warning systems.
But these were short-term measures that failed to address the increasingly frequent and extreme temperatures to be found in India’s near future, Koll said.
“After seeing my son leave school in hot conditions, we talked to the school principal, showed him the data and the heat wave forecasts. They immediately reduced school hours,” he said.
“However, this is only for one school,” Koll said. “We need such policies to work at the government and state level.”