Heat now second-largest natural killer of Indians, toll crosses 2,000
In India’s natural death trap, the sun is the second biggest killer after water and its victims have increased by over 60% in the last decade as thousands die because of ineffective heat management plans by the government.
National Crime Records Bureau data shows a searing heat wave has clocked the highest toll in 15 years, killing over 2,000 people.
In fact, the number of victims was more than double than that in 2003 and a long-term analysis revealed the lives claimed by India’s sizzling summers have been steadily rising. Between 2005 and 2015, the highest number of deaths was reported in 2012 when the toll was the maximum among all natural disasters.
The blazing heat was way behind floods in its killing ability till about ten years back but has since caught up, a fact experts blame on climate change.
Global temperatures have risen by an average of 0.8 degree C in the last century but warmer tropical regions, including south India, have witnessed a spike of between two and four degrees, said the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Human activity may have made the situation worse. Phenomena such as the urban heat island effect – where a city or metropolitan area becomes significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas – can make ambient temperature feel three to four degrees higher than what it is, said Arjuna Srinidhi, a programme manager at the Centre for Science and Environment.
This has also contributed to heat wave conditions in 2015 lasting fewer days than in 2010 but raking up a higher death toll, she added.
Climate experts point out India hasn’t done enough to adapt itself to rising temperatures, especially in saving human lives.
“The historical summer data shows heat-prone regions in coastal, southern and central India,” said a scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
But this knowledge hasn’t helped as these regions continue to report a heavy toll, raising questions about the government’s drought-proofing and disaster management plan.
The National Disaster Management Authority, which is mandated under law to prepare disaster management plans, had requested the states to map heatwave-prone areas and create adequate infrastructure, including health facilities, to cope with the blistering sun. But a government official accepted the plan more or less remained on paper.
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