Can India experience heat waves beyond human survival?

India could experience heat waves beyond human survival limit, says World Bank report. And this impact would be felt in several ways. A look at the report in five brief points

1. HOTTEST ON RECORD: The World Bank report titled “Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector” said that the country is experiencing higher temperatures that arrive earlier and stay far longer. “In April 2022, India was plunged into the grip of a punishing early spring heat wave that brought the country to a standstill, with temperatures in the capital. New Delhi, topping 46 degrees Celsius. The month of March, which witnessed extraordinary spikes in temperatures, was the hottest ever recorded,” said the report.

2. INTENSE HEAT WAVES: Predicting that heat waves situation in India could break the human survivability limit, the study noted that the recent heat wave supports what many climate scientists have long cautioned about with reference to rising temperatures across South Asia. It added that in August 2021, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the Indian subcontinent would suffer more frequent and intense heat waves over the coming decade. The G20 Climate Risk Atlas also warned in 2021 that heat waves across India were likely to last 25 times longer by 2036-65 if carbon emissions remain high, as in the IPCC’s worst-case emission scenario.

3. IMPACT ON ECONOMY: The report warned that rising heat across India can jeopardise economic productivity. “Up to 75 per cent of India’s workforce, or 380 million people, depend on heat-exposed labor, at times working in potentially life-threatening temperatures….By 2030, India may account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress associated productivity decline,” the report stated.

4. HEAT AND COLD CHAINS: Transporting food and pharmaceutical goods across India requires a system of cold chain refrigeration that works every step of the way. “A single temperature lapse in the journey can break the cold chain, spoiling fresh produce and weakening the potency of vaccines. With only 4 per cent of fresh produce in India covered by cold chain facilities, annual estimated food losses total USD 13 billion,” it said. It also observed that the third largest producer of pharmaceuticals in the world, pre-COVID-19, India lost approximately 20 per cent of temperature-sensitive medical products and 25 per cent of vaccines due to broken cold chains, leading to losses of USD 313 million a year.

5. THE POOR ARE VULNERABLE: According to analysis presented in the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP), only eight per cent of Indian households own air-conditioning units. “Indoor and electric fans can help to maintain thermal comfort, but these too are expensive to buy and inefficient. As a result, many poor and marginalised communities across India are more vulnerable to extreme heat, living in inadequately ventilated, hot and crowded homes without proper access to cooling,” the report warned.

Picture Credit: Google

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