Indian heat wave death toll reaches 20-year high

Scorching heat claims more than 1,800 lives in a week, the highest number in more than two decades, and no cold weather expected soon

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

India’s heat wave continues to bake the country’s southern and northern states, where more than 1,800 people have died in a week of temperatures reaching over 47 Celsius, six degrees above normal. This is the highest number of casualties since 1995, when 1,677 people died from heat in the country.

Officials say the extreme weather will affect states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as well as India’s capital New Delhi for at least two more days. They also say that death toll could rise further, and have ordered hospitals to treat heatstroke as an emergency.

Doctors' leave has already been canceled in order to treat people who complain of headaches, dizziness and fever. Most of the victims are either poor, elderly or laborers who work in direct sunlight. Construction workers, cart-pullers, street vendors, and homeless people were among the victims. Because homeless and poor people are less likely to go to hospitals, experts say the official death toll may have not reflect the actual numbers of those who have died due to the heat.

Indian authorities have started a TV campaign to teach people how to protect themselves from the heatstroke, while power cuts make staying cool harder.

In some states even the roads have been melted, with streets being empty and many shops shut. Officials also said that toxic ozone levels, which cause a number of health problems, have breached permissible limits in the city due to rising temperatures.

May and June are India's hottest months but officials say the number of days when temperatures are above normal has increased and caused more deaths this year.

A monsoon is expected to bring some relief to southern states on 31 May, but the north will have to wait several weeks before some cooling, meteorologists say.

Experts believe that climate change is a significant contributing factor to this extreme weather event, and warn that this type of weather may become ordinary across all of India within a generation.

“This is absolutely a man-made calamity,” Sunita Narain from Centre for Science and Environment, told India Today.

TRTWorld and agencies