Climate Health

Indian heat waves are blowing early and lasting longer

Indian heat wave

HQ Team

November 8, 2022: India has been experiencing severe heat waves over the last few decades, and they are sweeping across earlier and staying longer, a trend seen across South Asia.

India could soon become one of the first places in the world to experience heat waves that break the human survivability limit, according to a World Bank report.

In April 2022, an early spring heat wave brought the country to a standstill, with temperatures in the capital, New Delhi, topping 46 degrees Celsius.

The month of March, which witnessed extraordinary spikes in temperatures, was the hottest ever recorded.

In August last year, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the Indian subcontinent would suffer more frequent and intense heat waves over the coming decade.

740,000 excess deaths

In a 2021 study by the Lancet Planetary Health journal, researchers found that nearly 740,000 excess deaths in India annually could be attributed to abnormally hot and cold temperatures related to climate change.

Up to 75% of India’s workforce, or 380 million people, depends on heat-exposed labor. With heat-exposed working, contributing to nearly half of the country’s GDP, the country is highly vulnerable to job losses.

By 2030, India may account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress-associated productivity decline, the Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector report stated.

As temperatures rise, India’s long-term food and public health security depend on a reliable cold chain network. 

“Transporting food and pharmaceutical goods across India requires a system of cold chain refrigeration that works every step of the way. A single temperature lapse in the journey can break the cold chain, spoiling fresh produce and weakening the potency of vaccines.”

$13 billion in food loss

With only four per cent of fresh produce in India covered by cold chain facilities, annual estimated food losses total $13 billion. 

The world’s third largest producer of pharmaceuticals, pre-Covid-19, India lost approximately 20% of temperature-sensitive medical products and 25% of vaccines due to broken cold chains, leading to losses of $313 million a year.

“Sustainable cooling is essential for economic growth and critical for a country’s health, security and productivity.”

The government of India in 2019 unveiled the India Cooling Action Plan, which laid out strategies to adapt to heat stress over a 20-year timeline. It also lists actions across sectors to help reduce India’s cooling demand.

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