The extreme heat wave has hit much of India and Pakistan, affecting hundreds of millions of people in one of the most densely populated parts of the world. In some regions of the country, electricity has had major cuts and the water supply has also been affected. After an extremely hot month of March, this latest heatwave highlights the ravages of the climate emergency.
The heatwave in late April and early May was triggered by a high-pressure system and follows a prolonged period of above-average temperatures. The India Meteorological Department said in a statement on Friday that maximum temperatures reached 43-46°C over large areas on April 28 and this intense heat will continue until May 2. Similar temperatures have been seen in Pakistan, with the country’s Meteorological Department reporting that daytime temperatures are likely to be 5°C to 8°C above normal in large parts of the country.
The European Space Agency said on Friday that the satellites recorded “the highest recorded temperatures in the southeast and southwest of Ahmedabad, with a maximum surface temperature of about 65 ° C.” Although this is extreme, it shows that the region has suffered in a week.
In the mountainous regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkwa, unusual heat increases snow and ice melt and could trigger glacial lake outburst floods in vulnerable areas. Air quality in the region has deteriorated and large tracts of land are at risk of fire.
This heatwave has not been an isolated event: India recorded the warmest March since records existed 122 years ago. The Asian country registered average maximum temperatures of 33.1ºC or 1.86ºC above the long-term average. Pakistan also recorded its warmest March for at least the last 60 years, with several places breaking records for the month.
In the run-up to the monsoon season, both India and Pakistan regularly experience excessively high temperatures, especially in May. Heatwaves can occur in April but are less common. Although it is too early to know if new temperature records will be set in both countries, this heatwave appears as an anomaly that can become an everyday occurrence.
heatwaves in Asia
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Sixth Assessment Report, said that heatwaves and damp heat stress will become more intense and frequent in South Asia this century.
World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement on Friday that “it is premature to attribute the extreme heat in India and Pakistan solely to climate change. However, it is consistent with what we expect in a changing climate. Heatwaves are more frequent and intense and start earlier than in the past.”
The frequency of hot extremes in India increased from 1951–to 2015, and warming trends accelerated during the recent 30-year period from 1986–to 2015. According to the figures, there is significant warming for the warmest day, warmest night and coldest night since 1986.
“The highest temperatures on record are southeast and southwest of Ahmedabad, with maximum land surface temperatures around 65°C,” the European Space Agency said on its website.
Soaring temperatures have put enormous pressure on power demand in both India and Pakistan, where people have had to endure hours of power outages amid sweltering heat. On Friday, peak power demand in India reached an all-time high of 207,111 MW, according to the government.
India is facing its worst electricity shortage in six decades. Power cuts lasting more than eight hours have been imposed in states including Jharkhand, Haryana, Bihar, Punjab and Maharashtra as domestic coal supplies have fallen to critical levels and the price of imported coal has soared. In a bid to speed up the transportation of coal across the country, Indian Railways cancelled more than 600 passenger and postal train journeys to make way for the transportation of coal to power stations.
Last month, northwestern and central India experienced the hottest April since recordings began 122 years ago. On May 1, temperatures in Nawabshah, Pakistan, rose to 121.1 degrees Fahrenheit, probably the highest temperature recorded this year in the northern hemisphere. Other cities and towns across the region also suffered from record temperatures.
“This wave of heat is certainly unprecedented,” Chandni Singh, lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a senior fellow at the Indian Humanities Institute, told CNN. “We have seen a change in its intensity, time of arrival and duration. This is what climate experts predict, and it will have a cascading effect on health. “
In the western Indian state of Gujarat, “we get a lot of patients who have suffered heatstroke or other heat-related problems,” said Reuters Mona Desai, a former president of the Ahmedabad Medical Association. She said more than half of the patients were children – an age group particularly vulnerable to extreme heat – who experienced vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach problems, weakness and other symptoms.
According to preliminary data, since the end of March in Maharashtra, a state in western India, 25 people have died from heatstroke. The actual number of victims in the region is likely to be much higher; A recent study found that over the past 50 years, the heat has killed more than 17,000 people across the country. “This wave of heat is testing the limits of human survival,” Singh told CNN.
In some parts of India, the demand for electricity has increased, leading to massive power outages. CNN reported that last week, three of Delhi’s five power plants had critically low levels of coal consumption and that the country had cancelled hundreds of passenger trains in a bid to clear tracks and speed up coal shipments.