Rarely would people in north India have looked forward to dust storms, or any storm, like they do now, as they wait for a respite from the murderous heat wave sweeping the region. Severe water shortages — evidently due as much to crumbling infrastructure as the weather — and power black-outs have made the situation worse as Delhiites reel under the hottest days of the summer so far. It’s all very well for the weatherman to explain listlessly how the summer sun heats the landmass over the South Asian subcontinent, how westerly and north-westerly winds carry this heat to the coast, and that either the land has to be cooled by rains, or the wind direction must change for the heat to dissipate. The scorcher has claimed scores of lives across northern India so far, with people collapsing on the streets due to sunstroke.
If there’s anything more unfortunate than this, it is the apparent inability of the authorities to do little more than offer sympathies and helpless shrugs. This is hardly a freakish summer that’s got out of hand. Haven’t there been occasions galore in the past when similar killer heat waves claimed enough lives to have prompted the authorities to work out emergency plans to deal with them? Even simple measures like municipal officials warning people to stay indoors as much as possible, and keeping hospitals open round the clock to deal with cases of heat exhaustion, could go a long way in coping with heat wave conditions. Every year, before summer sets in, authorities could arrange for the distribution of oral rehydration sachets and halogen tablets in the most heat-affected districts. And local councils could ferry people who don’t have access to air-conditioning, or for that matter shelter, to public places or State buildings to keep cool. In fact, similar steps would also prevent people from freezing to death — due to lack of administrative concern and low-cost heating — during the harsh north Indian winter.
It’s time heat and cold waves were classified as natural calamities, along with floods, droughts, earthquakes and cyclones so that they could be monitored at the national level. The least policy-makers can do is to let technology serve the people. After all, it doesn’t tax anyone, save one’s imagination, to use common sense and basic technology — like air-conditioning or heating — to brace for extreme weather. But, of course, you need adequate power for that.