Who will be most affected by India's climate change-driven heat waves?

New Delhi -- Shiv Sankar, 54, spends his day working on a New Delhi construction site under the scorching sun.

02 July 2022 Saturday 03:26
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Who will be most affected by India's climate change-driven heat waves?

New Delhi -- Shiv Sankar, 54, spends his day working on a New Delhi construction site under the scorching sun. He doesn't think he can take a day off to escape the heatwave that has gripped India's capital, and most of its north since March. This would be a loss of a day's wage that his four-member family cannot afford.

Many millions of Indian and Pakistani workers spend their days outside. They don't have the option to avoid the hottest hours of day. These workers could face increased life- or death decisions about whether they go to work. Scientists say that climate change is making record-breaking heat waves, like those currently affecting northwest India and Pakistan, 100 times more likely.

According to a report by the Meteorological Office of the United Kingdom, climate change has increased the likelihood of heat waves in the region, from once every 312 year to once every 3.0 years.

The study concluded that "And by century's end... this will increase once every 1.15 year."

Over 120 degree Fahrenheit temperatures have scorched areas of India and Pakistan in recent weeks. This has resulted in dozens of deaths, reduced crops, increased energy demand, and triggered electricity blackouts. Authorities were forced to close schools and advised people to stay inside.

New Delhi reached 120 degrees on Sunday.

Shankar said that he has seen heat waves in the past, but this one is completely different." Shankar spoke to CBS News on Thursday. "I drink lots of water to stay hydrated and I take short breaks from work."

Shankar immigrated to New Delhi from Uttar Pradesh, a central Indian state, years ago to work as a construction worker. His wife and his two teenage children are fed by most of his earnings.

Scientists believe that prolonged heatstroke can result from excessive exposure to extreme temperatures. This could affect the functioning of vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, liver, and heart.

Although authorities encourage workers to take time off during the hottest days of the year, because laborers are only paid when they work, this can lead to a devastating loss of income for millions of families such as Shankar's.

According to a Duke University study, India lost 259 billion hours per year to extreme heat between 2001 and 2020. This amounts to an estimated $624 billion loss to India's economy and a more tangible impact on families who live hand-to mouth every week.

Luke Parsons, one of the Duke researchers, stated to CBS News that there is no doubt that rising temperatures will lead to more people being exposed to unsafe and uncomfortable levels of heat more often unless they can move in and cool off.

Parsons stated that "in both India and the U.S. this means that the most vulnerable people -- such as the elderly and those who work outside, or who can't afford air conditioning -- will be most affected."

They include the 85,000 bike rickshaw drivers in Delhi.

Shiv Kumar Mandal said that he earns 300-400 rupees per day (about $5) as a rickshaw driver in Delhi’s shopping district. "What does it mean to work in such heat?" We will all die from hunger if we don't work.

Parsons stated that Mandal and other workers are often faced with tough choices between safety and health, as well as economic well-being. This is not an ideal choice.

Science points to it getting worse.

Vimal Mishra (climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar), stated earlier this month that there is no doubt that heat waves will be more frequent, last longer, and cover greater parts of the Indian subcontinent in the future.

The heat waves are not limited to forcing people to choose between going hungry or working in dangerous environments.

Mishra stated to CBS News that "they are going to impact water availability, agriculture and businesses, as well as energy demand."

The heat wave currently raging in India has already had an impact on the world. It has sent the wheat price to record heights last week, after India banned exports.

Scientists believe it is evidence that while India and other developing countries are more susceptible to the effects of climate changes, they will not be the only ones who suffer.

CBS News was informed by Dr Anjal Prakash (a climate scientist and the lead researcher for the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC). He said that "This isn't going to stop" in India. "This will eventually reach the backyard of those countries who created this problem."



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