Climate change is making India’s devastating heatwaves worse

The problem is also widespread across the country, Mondal said, not only affecting typical hotspots in the northwest and southeast but also affecting areas not accustomed to extreme heat levels. And the effects are even more severe because of the lack of rainfall so far this season.

“It’s part of a broader climate change signal,” says Amir Agha Kouchak, a climate researcher at the University of California, Irvine. India’s average annual temperature increased at a rate of 0.62°C every 100 years from 1901 to 2020, according to data from World Bank. And the maximum temperature is increasing even faster, at a rate of 0.99°C every 100 years.

“People think a degree or two might not matter,” AghaKouchak said, but as average temperatures rise by a small amount, it means extreme events are becoming more common.

The effects of climate change on the weather are sometimes difficult to dismiss. But for heatwaves, researchers are “highly confident” that climate change is making the problem worse, AghaKouchak said.

Heat can have devastating impact on human health—356,000 deaths globally in 2019 were related to extreme temperatures. The elderly and children are most at risk, but anyone without adequate cooling can be affected, especially if the heat lasts for days at a time without relief at night.

Early warning and forecasting systems can help people Prepare for the extreme heat. And the IMD has begun focusing on forecasting heatwaves in recent years, Mondal said.

However, the reality of a developing country means that many people will still be at risk during India’s heatwaves. As of 2019, there are only about 7% of Indian households already have an air conditioner. And staying indoors when temperatures are at their peak may not be an option for people who depend on income from day-to-day jobs, Mondal said.

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