ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India's Killer Heat Waves

Heat waves do not kill, poverty and governmental apathy do.

The heat waves in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, Telangana and other states have killed over 1,200 people so far. The poultry industry in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh has reported high bird mortality and losses amounting to over Rs 100 crore until mid-May. As the disaster management authorities have admitted it is the poor, the ill and the old—the most vulnerable—who are the worst affected. In such circumstances, it is rather odd and verging on mockery for the authorities to urge people to stay indoors for several hours, drink plenty of water (and buttermilk), wear only cotton clothes and so on. Just how are daily wage labourers, drivers of non-air-conditioned vehicles, delivery services’ personnel, workers in industrial units where high temperatures are a constant, the homeless and the destitute to follow this “well-intentioned” advice? To add to the heat waves, power outages and breakdowns are such a common feature in so many parts of the country that staying indoors hardly helps. Some health experts have even called for the declaration of a national disaster given the high death toll (this number only reflects the reported deaths). Instead of bland and useless instructions, what is needed are well-coordinated measures that range from the preventive to the curative.

The lack of such measures is all the more reprehensible because this is not the first time that India is witnessing deaths due to heat waves. The heat waves in 2003 in Andhra Pradesh, in 1998 in Odisha and the 2010 heat wave which was a global phenomenon and affected Ahmedabad badly took thousands of lives. While these years saw exceptionally high fatalities, almost every year the heat waves kill people all over the country, even if in smaller numbers.

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