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Heatwave deaths: Half a century, 17,000 lives

Died Fish in a dried up empty reservoir or dam due to a summer heatwave, low rainfall, pollution and drought in north karnataka,India. Heatwave deaths concept.
An empty reservoir in northern Karnataka. Image credit Lakshmiprasad Sindhnur / 123rf

Heatwaves in India claimed more than 17,000 lives in a near half-century, research published earlier this year has found. The trend of heatwave deaths points to the rising urgency of combating climate change.

Between 1971 and 2019, the research posited that extreme weather events claimed 141,308 lives. Of these fatalities, twelve percent – translating to 17,362 people dead – can be attributed to heatwave deaths.

Heatwaves are currently in the global headlines as North America finds itself embattled by record-breaking temperatures which have resulted in hundreds of heatwave deaths in Canada and the United States and ignited wildfires. The issue of heatwaves is a long-standing one in India, as the new data reflects.

In the timeframe the study covered, India experienced 706 heatwave incidents according to the researchers. Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana bore the brunt of the casualties, being part of the so-called Core Heatwave Zone which encompasses those states alongside Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal. 

The findings come as climate change heats up India. As Health Issues India reported recently, “a draft United Nations report obtained by AFP News contains grim news regarding the future of our planet, positing that the climate crisis “will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.” The leaked report, as AFP News reported last week, involved the contributions of hundreds of scientists and totals at 4,000 pages. According to AFP, the report’s “main conclusions are unlikely to change between now and its official publication in February 2022, to illustrate the expected effects of the climate emergency.” Said conclusions are dire to say the least.” 

The scaling up of heatwaves in India and resultant deaths and the link to climate change were spotlighted by Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Science and Technology, and Earth Sciences. In remarks to Lok Sabha parliamentarians, Vardhan said “one of the reasons for the increase in heat waves is global warming associated with the increase in greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, methane etc in the atmosphere.”

The heatwave crisis is a reminder of the necessity of fighting climate change. With a heatwave having just recently pushed temperatures to a nine-year high in Delhi, affecting tens of millions, it is incumbent upon us to mobilise in reaction to the climate crisis. 

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