Apr 23, 2017

India's killer heat wave claims 4,620 lives in last four years

India

Heat wave in the country is turning out to be particularly deadly with over 4,620 recorded deaths caused by the severe weather condition in the last four years.

Of that figure, a whopping 4,246 people died in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana alone.

According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, in 2016 nearly 1,600 people died due to erratic weather conditions, of which 557 casualties were to severe heat wave.

2015 witnessed 2,081 deaths due to severe heat wave while 549 people died in 2014.

In 2013, the severe heatwave conditions killed 1,443 people, of which the unified Andhra Pradesh state registered 1,393 casualties.

The figures, however, are larger across the country as causes other than the direct reasons like heat stroke and dehydration are seldom accounted for, said Dileep Mavlankar, Director of Gandhinagar-based Indian Institute of Public Health that has been working with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation on a heatwave action plan.

"For instance, dehydration also leads to respiratory and renal failure, especially for those who are prone to heart and kidney ailments. Infants and the elderly top the list in casualties," he said.

"In 2010, Ahmedabad recorded 65 deaths due to heat wave, but in the same period, there were 800 more deaths," Mavlankar said.

Since last year the IMD has started issuing heatwave alerts. A heat wave is declared when the temperature crosses 45 degrees Celsius.

If the temperature rises to 4 to 5 degrees above normal, then the condition is termed as a 'heat wave'. If the variance is over 6 degrees above normal, then it is classified as a 'severe heat wave'.

With global temperatures on the rise, the instances of heat wave are increasing. MoES figures reveal that there were 74 days of severe heatwave on an average between 1961 and 1970. The figure declined to 34 between 1971-1980.

Between 1981-1990 and 1991-2000, 45 and 48 severe heatwave days were recorded respectively.

However, there was a sharp increase in figures in 2001- 2010 with the number of severe heatwave days peaking to 98. The last decade is one of the warmest ever recorded.

With every year in the current decade registering warmer climates, it may be fast racing towards becoming the warmest 10-year period. The IMD has declared 2016 as the warmest year ever recorded since 1901.

Global warming is the obvious reason behind the severe heat wave, said Laxman Singh Rathore, former Director General of the India Meteorological Department, but local factors also aggravate the situation.

For instance, the case of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha that have seen maximum deaths due to heatwave.

"In summer season, there is an upper air anti-cyclone over Rajasthan and Gujarat. It sucks hot dry desert air which gets transported to Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha.

"Persistent advection of this hot dry air gives rise to heatwave conditions over these regions. Once this anti-cyclone moves to the Arabian sea, heatwave conditions subside," said A K Jaswal, a former scientist with the IMD who has published a research paper on this topic.