As the blazing sun beat down on his fruit cart, Mohammad Ikrar dreaded spending another day dumping dozens of rotting mangoes and melons, a common practice as India grappled with a problem. unprecedented heat wave this month.
The 38-year-old doesn’t have a refrigerator, which means his fruit spoils quickly. At the end of the day, any leftover produce is usually only good to feed to wayward cows passing by.
Since April, Ikrar said he has lost up to 3,000 rupees ($39) a week, almost half of his average weekly earnings.
“This heat is torture. But if I want to buy an air conditioner or a refrigerator one day, I have to do this,” said Ikrar, who was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a white hat to keep cool in the 44-degree Celsius (111.2F) heat.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms in the New Delhi area early on Monday brought scorching temperatures down to around 20C, Mahesh Palawat, vice president of Skymet, a private weather forecasting agency, said in a social media post. social networks that the heat wave would not return “anytime soon”. soon” in the region.
But temperatures will soar to around 40C again later in the week, according to India’s weather bureau.
Monday’s storm knocked out power in much of the capital city, a problem Ikrar has grown accustomed to this summer.
At home, he and his family experience power outages day and night, rendering the ceiling fan in their one-bedroom home in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi, useless.
He sends his three children to a school equipped with air coolers for a “break” from the heat.
“I sweat all day, then I sweat all night. There is no way to cool down properly. I haven’t experienced anything like this since I moved here eight years ago,” she said.
Ikrar provides a snapshot of the threat Indians face from lack of access to refrigeration amid widespread blackouts.
Nearly 323 million people across the country are at high risk from extreme heat and a lack of cooling equipment such as fans and refrigerators, according to a report. released last week by Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a UN-backed organization.
India topped a list of “critical” countries, which also includes China, Indonesia and Pakistan, which have the largest populations facing heat related hazards ranging from immediate deaths from overheating to impacts on food security and income.
Temperatures in the New Delhi area exceeded 120 °F (49 °C) in some regions in mid-May after India recorded its hottest March in 122 years and an unusually hot April.
Temperatures are expected to cool down when the monsoon rains arrive in June.
‘Worrying urban trends’
from India electricity demand has hit a record with a surge in air conditioning use that has triggered the worst energy crisis in more than six years.
But, like Ikrar, not everyone can beat the heat.
Although nearly every household in India has access to electricity, only a fraction of its population of 1.4 billion owns any cooling appliance, SE4ALL found.
As cooling demand soars in the coming years, it will also add pressure to India’s overtaxed electrical systems and lead to a potential increase in planet-warming emissions, said Brian Dean, director of energy efficiency and refrigeration at SE4ALL.
“(This) in turn further exacerbates the risk of longer and more extreme heat waves,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He urged authorities to swiftly implement India’s Cooling Action Plan (PDF), launched in 2019, which aims to reduce cooling demand by up to 25% by 2038 through measures including developing new cooling technologies and designing buildings with natural airflow.
Scientists have linked the early onset of a hot summer to climate change, saying more than a billion people in India and neighboring Pakistan were in some way at risk from extreme heat.
Indian government data shows that at least 25 people have died of heat stroke since the end of March, the highest number in five years.
The official number is just “the tip of the iceberg,” said Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, a private university in Gandhinagar, in the western state of Gujarat.
Heat is a largely invisible killer that can be difficult to pinpoint as a cause of death, he said, especially since it often strikes older and infirm people and can be caused by indirect exposure, such as being trapped in small, poorly ventilated homes.
Such cases of indirect exposure account for about nine out of 10 heat deaths, he said, with India likely accounting for only about 10 percent of the actual total.
Mavalankar helped implement South Asia’s first Heat Action Plan (HAP) in Ahmedabad in Gujarat in 2013, after the city suffered more than 1,300 deaths in a heat wave in 2010. He credited HAP for save up to 1,200 lives each summer.
HAP, which includes early warning text messages to mobile phones, has expanded to nearly two dozen heat wave-prone states and more than 130 cities and counties.
The plan also directs people to seek respite from heat waves in “cooling centers” such as air-conditioned public buildings, shops and malls, temples and parks. For some, they can save their lives.
Mavalankar and the dean of SE4ALL called for the wider use of “cool roofs” with reflective surfaces or coatings to lower temperatures in informal and low-income housing.
From building heat-resistant houses to creating more green spaces, Mavalankar said immediate action is needed to help the poor and vulnerable survive in a warmer world.
“Temperatures may increase between three and five degrees in the coming summers,” he warned. “We have to prepare right now.”