Ferocious Heat Waves Hit India, People Gasping for Rain


As mainland India heats up during summer, plus 45 degree Celsius temperatures in national capital region, Punjab, Rajasthan and other parts have become par for the course. But this year, Assam has sizzled too across its length and breadth. The mercury has been hovering at 37-38 degree Celsius or more in places as far apart as Kokrajhar and Lakhimpur, Guwahati and Dibrugarh, Silchar and Tezpur. Given the high humidity in this region, such temperatures are difficult to bear.

Bang in the middle of the monsoons, the State has been laid low by a vast low pressure system over north-west Bay of Bengal and adjoining coastal areas that is cutting off rain-bearing winds into the Northeast region — so says the weatherman. This is estimated to have caused a 30 percent drop in rains so far this year.

About half a dozen deaths have been attributed to the heat wave in last 3-4 days across the State; even if spells of rain bring relief, such conditions are likely to recur in the coming month of Bhadra. Lest we forget, Assam along with the entire NE region has been identified as a future extreme hot spot if current trends of global warming continue unabated.

It is being projected that by the end of 21st century, ‘wet bulb temperatures’ incorporating measures of both heat and humidity will be very high. This would result in inability of the human body to cool itself naturally — the result would be death in case of exposure to the elements for more than six hours at a stretch. Obviously, the toll would be higher in urban areas, and already our cities of concrete and coal-tar feel like ovens.

Make no mistake, our myopic urban planners are heaping further misery on the troubles accompanying a rapidly heating Earth. This is because urban heat islands can be deadly, hotter by about 5 degrees than greener suburbs. The days could be intensely hot, but minimum temperatures at night would also be consistently more in the cities. This would bring about acute heat stress and another sort of inequality — the rich will survive with artificial cooling while the poor will bear the brunt.

Spare a thought for the daily wager who will be faced with the Hobson’s choice of either toiling under the blazing sun to collapse fatally, or preferring the safety of cooler indoors to die starving. Many environmentalists are therefore calling for smart cities to be also made ‘heat smart’ — building tree corridors, maintaining low-lying areas as wetlands, installing reflectors on rooftops while using solar power, going for extensive water conservation and other solutions.

However, studies in Gujarat have recently shown that while cities are expectedly hotter than nearby rural areas at night, villages are actually hotter during daytime! It is suspected the loss of green cover in villages is the reason. Heat action planning is therefore a must in both urban and rural areas.