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Frequency of intense heatwaves to rise further: Experts

By, New Delhi
May 08, 2023 05:44 AM IST

Between 2031 and 2060, the likelihood of ‘mega heatwaves’, the area impacted by heatwaves and the population impacted by such conditions are likely to increase.

The frequency of intense heatwaves and extreme weather events are expected to increase in the coming years, especially in parts of northwest, central, east India and Pakistan, in view of the climate crisis, experts have said.

Last year, a Lancet report said that India recorded a 55% rise in deaths due to extreme heat. (HT/Vipin Kumar)
Last year, a Lancet report said that India recorded a 55% rise in deaths due to extreme heat. (HT/Vipin Kumar)

Vimal Mishra, professor, civil engineering and earth sciences, at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar, said the frequency of intense heatwaves is likely to rise manifold in the future.

Also read: Cyclone Mocha: No heatwave in India for next 5 days, heavy rainfall in Andaman

Mishra, who has authored several studies around the impacts of climate crisis, said that as recently as the summer of 2022, parts of India and Pakistan experienced extreme temperature recordings that led to at least 90 deaths in both countries, according to early reports. He said that an ongoing analysis by his team at the institute has shown that the likelihood of heatwaves, like the one experienced in 2022, is only going to increase in the future.

“The unprecedented heatwave, like the one in 2022, is projected to become very frequent in the future, which will pose a severe impact on the highly populated Indian sub-continent region,” Mishra said.

The analysis also showed that between 2031 and 2060, the likelihood of ‘mega heatwaves’, the area impacted by heatwaves and the population impacted by such conditions are likely to increase. Between 2071 and 2100, the impact is expected to nearly double, it said.

Many recent studies have also pointed to a similar trend. The annual Lancet Report released last year said that India recorded a 55% rise in deaths due to extreme heat between 2000-2004 and 2017-2021.

The Lancet report, which reviewed 103 countries, also showed that the heatwave which hit India and Pakistan between March and April last year was 30 times more likely to have happened because of the climate crisis.

“Exposure to extreme heat affects health directly, exacerbating underlying conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and causing heat stroke, adverse pregnancy outcomes, worsened sleep patterns, poor mental health, and increased injury-related death,” the report said.

Before this, another study by the UK Met office pointed out that the climate crisis had made record-breaking – 100 times more likely – heatwaves in northwest India and Pakistan.

Experts in India agreed.

Raghu Murtugudde, visiting professor, earth system scientist at IIT-Bombay and emeritus professor at University of Maryland, said the warming of the Arabian Sea will put areas like northwest and central India, and Pakistan at risk of increased instances of intense heat episodes.

“Over the years, we are seeing a warming trend in the Arabian Sea, which in the coming years will only lead to more intense heat recordings in parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,” he said.

Aditya Valiathan Pillai from the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) said that cities need to be prepared for this impending situation.

Also read: Explained: What is a heatwave and how to protect yourself

“Many cities have already come up with a heat action plan and many are in the process of preparing it. The bottom line is that cities will have to prepare for increased heatwave conditions. This includes identifying the vulnerable population, preparing infrastructure, and setting up a well-oiled communication mechanism during intense summer months to minimise damage,” Pillai said.

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