Temperatures could nudge 45 to 47 degrees Celsius in large swathes of north and northwest India for the rest of the week, the weather office has forecast, before conditions ease slightly with the onset of monsoon down south.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued “heat wave to severe heat wave” warnings for parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, which are already baking in early-summer heat this year. Maximum temperatures could touch 45-47 degrees in a severe heat wave condition.
“These conditions are likely to spread … during May 17-21. They are likely to abate gradually during the remaining part of May,” the IMD said late Monday.
Monsoon rains, which irrigate 60% of India’s farms, are forecast to hit south India a week later than usual by June 7. The IMD has forecast an “above normal” monsoon this year, meaning the rainfall could be 104-110% of a 50-year average.
But those showers are still days away, and towns and villages in north and western India will likely bake until then.
In Lucknow, temperatures could soar to 47 degrees Celsius on Wednesday while Jaipur, Bhopal and Indore may swelter under anything between 44 to 45 degrees.
“The temperature is so high that I don’t get customers in the afternoon and have to rest under shade,” said Ramesh Meena, a rickshaw puller in Jaipur, who finds it near impossible to work during the day.
“This is only May. I am worried about the coming months.”
Already, two years of successive droughts have sapped rural demand and posed a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to double farm income by 2022.
There is no official statistics of aggregated heat-related deaths, but searing temperatures coupled with a drought is said to have killed some 300 people this year, and left not enough food to eat or water to drink in parts of an area that holds about 25% of India’s 1.2 billion people.
Officials transported water in trains to towns and villages in the west earlier this month amid reports of children collapsing in the heat while fetching water, and of armed men guarding wells and ponds in Madhya Pradesh to stop farmers stealing water.
In Mumbai, cricket matches were moved out on the orders of the court so that no water was wasted in keeping the grounds green. To the north in Mahoba, Uttar Pradesh, newspaper photographs of cattle carcass on bone-dry riverbeds painted the picture of a looming famine.
In cities and towns, unrelenting heat has forced schools to shut and outdoor work such as construction to stop.
“It’s extreme heat wave condition which I haven’t faced in the previous years,” said Manoj Karaiya, a 40-year-old swimming coach from Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh.
“I was travelling yesterday and everybody on the train was talking about heat wave condition and that how our messing up with the environment is punishing us.”