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India could see 200-fold increase in heat wave exposure by 2100: study

From Down to Earth: According to an IIT Gandhinagar study, population exposure to heat waves is expected to increase by a massive 200-fold increase if carbon emissions continue under a business-as-usual scenario. Heat wave is already the third biggest natural killer in the country, but is not recognised as a natural calamity by the government.

Down to Earth

Mercury hovering around early 40°C in Gujarat; Delhi experiencing the hottest March in the last eight years and Mumbai sizzling at 41°C are ominous signs. They tell of the future when such high temperatures will be the new normal.

The IMD’s seasonal forecast in the beginning of March indicated that there is a 52 per cent chance of maximum temperatures in the core heat wave zone touching its peak between March and May. The maximum temperatures, according to the latest seasonal forecast, are likely to be ‘markedly above normal’ (5°C or more) over major parts of northwest India (including western Himalayan region) and parts of central India and Peninsular India in the coming days.

Frequency and exposure

According to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, the frequency of severe heat waves in India will increase 30-fold by 2100 under a 2°C warming scenario. Under a business-as-usual scenario, heat-wave frequency might increase 75-fold. “Heat waves like 1998 are projected to occur every year in the late 21st century under a business-as-usual scenario,” says Vimal Mishra, the lead researcher of the study published in December 2017.

On identifying the number of days that heat waves were expected to last, and the estimates of population increase, the researchers estimated that population exposure to heat waves is expected to increase by around 18-fold by the end of the century under a 1.5°C warming scenario. Under a 2°C warming scenario, the exposure will increase 92-fold. A massive 200-fold increase in exposure is likely under business-as-usual scenario.

A similar study on increasing probability of mortality during Indian heat waves, which was released in June 2017, claims that the number of deaths in India, which has skyrocketed due to extreme heat, will increase significantly as further warming will have a potentially worse impact on large number of people living in poverty.

The researchers argue that even a relatively minor temperature rise can have a disastrous consequence. Extreme heat brings with it, drought, reduced crop yields and air quality issues, jeopardising human health. The projected temperature increase of 2.2 to 5.5 °C by the end of the century, according to the researchers, could make parts of developing nations in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America “practically uninhabitable” during summer months.

The summer of 2018

While future does not look promising, even the present does not look any better. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that summer could be severe in 2018, with temperatures 0.5 to 1°C higher than the long-term average. While northern and western parts of the country will see a spike in mean seasonal temperatures by more than 1 °C, the southern states could see temperatures rise between 0.5 degrees Celsius and 1 °C from their long-term averages.

This is no good news as the country is heading towards extreme water crisis. According to the reservoir storage bulletin issued by the Central Water Commission on March 28, live storage available in all the 91 reservoirs is 46.136 BCM, which is 28 per cent of total live storage capacity. This is 13 per cent lower than the storage in corresponding period last year and 11 per cent lower than the average of the past 10 years.

Killer heat wave is on, but no relief in sight
Down to Earth
Heat wave is the third biggest natural killer in the country with 2,040 people dying of it in 2015, but the government refuses to consider it a natural disaster. The National Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009, do not include heat wave in the list of natural calamities. The government, therefore, does not devote financial and infrastructure resources to the problem. (Related: Mumbai: Rail tracks bend due to heat, leaves used to cool them down)

By 2100, heat waves in South Asia could be too deadly to survive: study
Down to Earth
By the year 2100, heat waves in South Asia could carry heat and humidity beyond the limits of human survivability if current emission levels continue, new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are likely to be the most severely hit. The research models show that these summer heat waves could start hitting the Indian sub-continent as early as the next few decades. The Indo-Gangetic plains would be the second-worst affected region in the world, after the Persian Gulf area.

India’s heat waves spell doom for the working poor
Nagraj Adve, The Wire
Deaths due to heat waves in India have been in the thousands–in the years 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2015 in particular. Numbers, which are how the deaths are usually reported, are class- and gender-neutral. It’s one of the grave ironies of global warming that those least responsible for it are affected the most by it.

Heat waves are getting worse, but these simple measures can save many lives
Gulrez Shah Azhar, The Times of India
This summer’s shaping up to be especially bad in India. Satellite images show large areas dried up from lack of water. Without access to water, heat waves become particularly deadly. But heat deaths are preventable and simple measures could save lives. Here are three actions that would make an enormous difference.

Viral essay: The Uninhabitable Earth
David Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine
It is not often that an article about climate change becomes the most hotly debated item on the internet. But David Wallace-Wells’ lengthy essay published in New York Magazine did exactly that. The full text of the essay –admittedly a worst-case scenario- which has kicked up a firestorm of debate online, along with selected responses.


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