New Delhi recorded an all time high temperature of 48 degrees celsius on June 10, as reported by the observatory of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) at Palam in the South West region of the city. This record marks a peak in the ever-growing heat wave trend in the capital.
According to IMD officials, in small areas like the National Capital Region, a heatwave is declared when the mercury touches a 45 degree mark even for a day, as compared to two consecutive days in bigger regions. In this context, the intensity of this heatwave can be seen as quite extreme given that temperatures upto or over 45 degrees celsius were recorded for four consecutive days from June 8 to June 11.
This record temperature is not an isolated event but amongst a series of alarming reports of high temperatures and consequent heat waves around Northern India. 2019 in particular has witnessed not just higher temperatures in up to 23 states (during the day as well as night time) but also a greater number of heat wave days.
The effects of this unprecedented rise in temperature can be seen in different aspects of Indian life. Schools and colleges in various parts of the country have been forced to shut down. Agriculture is bound to be adversely affected by rise in temperatures as drought hits fields with lack of proper irrigational facilities. Temperatures have gone well beyond the lethal wet bulb temperature (a measure combining heat and humidity) of 35 degrees celsius, and so the death poll has gradually increased: in the state of Bihar, over 40 people died in a single day due to heat stress. Heat and humidity also creates ideal conditions for vectors to breed, spreading disease. Children, elderly and malnourished people are at particular risk.
Pollution also worsens the impact of high temperatures on human health. India has 22 of the world's 30 most polluted cities.
Although the Ministry of Health and The National Disaster Management Authority have come up with advisory messages for the general public, is it enough to protect citizens from the growing harm caused by rising temperatures? Is an overall shift in institutional mindsets about climate change a dire need in India?