[Photo Credit: Hindustan Times/Getty Images]
Imagine suffering through heat so intense, it feels as though you’re sitting in an oven. You can’t breathe, move, or even leave the house. It hasn’t rained for months. And there’s no air conditioning.
Roads are melting, eggs are being cooked on sidewalks, farmers are committing suicide, phones won’t work due to overheating, hundreds are dying due to starvation, and women are turning to prostitution to provide an income for their families. It looks and sounds like a Hollywood apocalyptic movie.
These are some of the realities for the inhabitants of Valsad, Gujarat, and Phalodi, Rajasthan.
May is always one of the hottest months in India as the summer starts setting in. Temperatures broke records at 51 degrees Celsius or 123 degrees Fahrenheit in Phalodi this week alone. Let’s put that in perspective: it is the hottest temperature recorded ever in India. The last time it was close to being this hot in India was 1956. It’s also ranked as the third hottest temperature recorded on Earth. And the heat wave is expected to last an additional five days according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). The IMD believes monsoon season will start on or near June 7th.
And to make things worse, the heat wave comes during an arid monsoon season. In India, monsoon begins in May and June. But the past few years, drought conditions have risen leaving farmers stranded without crops and without food to eat. Without water to protect themselves, villagers and farmers who choose to stay face death due to dehydration and diarrhea. Other farmers chose suicide as opposed to moving to slums.
Last year, 2,400 people died due to the heat wave. Numerous cattle and wildlife also perished. In Marathwada, there’s only one percent of water left in the dams. In that same town, 400 farmers have already committed suicide this year. Farmer suicides have become an agrarian crisis, which has garnered national attention.
So what can we do and who is to blame?
Scientists have strong evidence that climate change is responsible for the increase in frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts. In fact, by the end of the century, global temperatures could rise by six degrees.
Laxman Singh Rathore, the director general of the IMD, has been quoted in support of the idea of climate change as a culprit.
“It has been observed that since 2001, places in northern India, especially in Rajasthan, are witnessing a rising temperature trend every year. The main reason is the excessive use of energy and emission of carbon dioxide. Factors like urbanization and industrialization have added to the global warming phenomenon. I think a similar trend would be maintained in Rajasthan in coming days,” he said.
According to India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), states need to prepare a heat wave action plan that they can implement. The plans include identifying heat waves as a health risk, mapping out areas that will be most affected, setting up public cooling zones, and issuing heat wave alerts throughout the media.
The NDMA also encourages states to record detailed data reports on heat wave deaths and illnesses as to better understand who is being affected and how to help them.
In the meantime, schools in states such as Orissa have shut down temporarily with officials encouraging families to stay indoors, according to the Associated Press. Officials in Andhra Pradesh are passing out free water and buttermilk to help people stay hydrated. Maharashtra is receiving tanks of water from officials to help alleviate starvation and drought in farming communities.
Officials are urging people to stay out of the sun and to hydrate throughout the day.