Iin the opening In a scene from “Ministry of the Future,” American novelist Kim Stanley Robinson imagines what would happen to a small Indian town hit by a heat wave. The streets were deserted as normal activities were prevented. The air-conditioned room was filled with fugitives silenced by the heat. Rooftops are littered with the bodies of people sleeping outside in search of a nonexistent wind. The grid, and then law and order, collapsed. Like a medieval scene of hell, the local lake is filled with half-boiled corpses. Across northern India, 20 million people died in one week.
Mr Robinson has said he wrote the 2020 bestseller as a warning. The Indo-Gangetic plain, which stretches from the backbone of Pakistan to northern India to the delta of Bangladesh, is home to 700 million people and is particularly vulnerable to the heat waves that climate change is making more frequent. It is one of the hottest, poorest and most populous places on Earth (see map).More than 110,000 heat-related excess deaths per year in South Asia between 2000 and 2019, according to a study The Lancet Planetary Health, journal. Last year’s pre-monsoon hot season, which lasted from March to early June, was one of the most extreme and economically destructive on record. This year’s can rival that.
India just had its hottest December and February since 1901. Last month the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and their counterparts in Pakistan (PMDs) warns of above-average temperatures and heat waves through the end of May. On March 6, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a review of preparations for the heat season. Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Agency has launched a nationwide simulation to test emergency response to possible flooding from extreme heat. Although March is relatively cool, the next few weeks can be very hot. April 1 Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, IMDCommander, sound the alarm again.
Scientists record heat stress as a combination of temperature and humidity, known as a “wet bulb” measurement. When this combined level is close to the body temperature of 37°C, it becomes difficult for mammals to dissipate heat through perspiration. With a wet bulb temperature of around 31°C, very little sweat evaporates into the air like soup. There is an increasing likelihood of brain damage and heart and kidney failure. Sustained exposure to a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C (the temperature Mr. Robinson imagined in his book) was considered fatal. The Indo-Gangetic plain is one of the few places where such wet-bulb temperatures have been recorded, including several recorded in the scorched-earth Pakistani town of Jacobbad. A World Bank report in November warned that India could become one of the first regions where wet-bulb temperatures routinely exceed the survival threshold of 35°C.
In Jakobbad, temperatures peaked at 51°C last year. Half of the town’s 200,000 population has fled in search of better weather elsewhere. Even after the June heat wave started to abate, it was difficult to resume normal activities. Ali Bahar, a daily wage worker in Jacobbad, recalled trying unsuccessfully to work in the surrounding area in June. While driving a tractor in 42°C heat, he felt feverish and dizzy before falling from the machine and hitting his head. Colleagues took him to a local clinic, where a packet of orange-flavored rehydration salts was prescribed the standard treatment. He couldn’t work for a week.
Temperature records provide a dire account of the changes taking place. According to the definition of heat waves used by the India Meteorological Department, India experienced an average of 23.5 heat waves per year in the two decades to 2019, more than double the 9.9 per year average between 1980 and 1999. Between 2010 and 2019, the incidence of heatwaves in India increased by a quarter compared with the previous decade, with a corresponding increase in heatwave-related deaths by 27%. During last year’s hot season, India experienced twice as many heatwave days as the previous record-breaking same period in 2012.
Climate change made last year’s heat wave 30 times more likely, according to a research collaboration World Weather Attribution. That’s both because it raised India’s average annual temperature—by about 0.7°C between 1900 and 2018—and because it made heat waves bigger and more frequent. The built environment of cities is 2°C hotter than nearby rural areas, an amplified effect often seen in India’s concrete jungles. People living in slums, with poor air circulation and often using heat-absorbing materials like tin, are the worst off.
Such events would be 2-20 times more likely to occur if the climate warmed by 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, which seems inevitable.Even if the world makes more progress in curbing greenhouse gas emissions than seems possible, “large areas of South Asia are expected to experience [wet-bulb temperature] According to a paper by Elfatih Eltahir and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, temperatures exceed 31°C, which is considered extremely dangerous for most people.
The cost of heat is already high. Luke Parsons of Duke University in North Carolina estimates that even working in the shade on an average Derry summer day loses 15-20 minutes of labor per hour during the hottest hours. Mr Parsons and colleagues estimate that India loses 101 billion man-hours a year to heating and Pakistan 13 billion. Wheat harvests in both countries fell by about 15 percent during last year’s hot season. Livestock perish. A normal farming day has become impossible. Power outages shut down industry and, worse, air conditioning. Even the Indian capital, Delhi, is facing power outages.
A 2020 study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), a corporate think-tank estimates that India’s loss of outdoor daytime work due to extreme heat has risen from a pre-1980 peak of 10% of the total to 15% today. Modeling suggests that this share will double in parts of India by 2050.
This effect is greatly exacerbated by conditions in labour-intensive India and other hot and poor regions (see chart). 50% of heat-exposed jobs in India in 2017 gross domestic product and employs 75% of the workforce, or about 380 million people.expected by 2030 Made by MGI, Such jobs will still account for 40% gross domestic product, An increase in lost hours could put 2.5-4.5% of the workforce at risk gross domestic product, Or $150 billion to $250 billion. Pakistan may lose 6.5-9% gross domestic product As a result of climate change, the World Bank warned last year that “increased floods and heat waves reduce agricultural and livestock yields, damage infrastructure, weaken labor productivity and damage health”.
What else can be done but reverse global warming? Ahmedabad, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, offers a guide. In 2010, it suffered a heatwave that killed 800 people in one week. “It’s a staggering number,” said Dileep Mavalankar. As director of the Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, he helped design India’s first heat action plan in Ahmedabad (Happy). It recommended several simple but effective measures: warning people about extreme temperatures, advising them to stay indoors and drink plenty of water, and putting emergency services on alert.
Today, there are estimated to be more than 100 such schemes in Indian cities, districts and states. Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, drew up similar plans after a 2015 heatwave that killed 1,300 people. The measures may have contributed to the surprisingly low death toll during last year’s extended heat wave. Early estimates put the death toll at just 90 in India from the disease, but the true figure is likely to be much higher. Last year’s heat wave wasn’t particularly humid, which is likely the main reason for the lower death toll. Places that are accustomed to high temperatures are also better at adapting to high temperatures than places that are not.
Some Happybetter than others. A new study by the Center for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, has found that many people are oversimplifying heat hazards by ignoring the role of humidity, failing to target vulnerable groups and lacking adequate funding. Regulations for forecasting heat waves are also variable.Indian IMD Publish a sophisticated daily hot spot bulletin with a color-coded five-day forecast. Pakistan is far behind. “this PMDs The technology is old,” said Sherry Rehman, the country’s climate change minister. “To be better prepared, we need better predictive capabilities. “The two countries will do better by cooperating, United Nations.
They will increasingly be called on to take more costly measures, such as designing “cold sheds”, rethinking urban planning and building materials, and bailing out those unable to work in the heat. “We’re going to have to learn to live in a warmer world,” says scientist Gabriel Vecchi of Princeton University in New Jersey. The question is how orderly, costly or catastrophic the learning process will be.
It’s hard to find much comfort in basic facts. Parts of the impoverished and crowded Indo-Gangetic plain will become increasingly uninhabitable for days or weeks each year. Even the most capable governments cannot avoid disasters. India, let alone Pakistan, is not the most capable.
In fact, this is where Mr. Robinson’s dystopian novel goes off the rails. He imagines the heatwave he describes spurring transformative climate action around the world. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama concluded that it was “ludicrously unrealistic”. And yet, without such action, it’s hard to see what’s going to stop the most dire threat of global warming from becoming a dire reality.■