Over 1,100 people die, with workers, elderly or homeless people among those worst hit as temperatures approaches 50C.
Dizzying temperatures have caused water shortages in thousands of Indian villages and killed hundreds more people over the past day, driving the death toll from a weeks-long heat wave to at least 1,826, officials have said.
Hospitals were urged to give emergency treatment to people suffering from heatstroke as authorities on Friday cancelled doctors’ leave, set up water distribution points and warned people not to venture out.
“The main thing is prevention in this situation to ensure that preventive measures are being taken,” said Charan Singh, additional director of public health in Delhi, where top temperatures have hit 45 degrees Celsius.
Meteorological officials have called the heat wave “severe” and warned that it would continue for at least another two days across a huge swath of the South Asian country from Tamil Nadu in the south to the Himalayan foothill state of Himachal Pradesh.
Most of those killed by heat-related conditions including dehydration and heat stroke, have been in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where 100 people died on Thursday as temperatures hovered at about 43C.
Thousands of water tankers were delivering supplies to more than 4,000 villages and hamlets facing acute water shortages in the central state of Maharashtra, state officials told the Press Trust of India news agency.
“In the capital New Delhi, there are growing concerns on the part of doctors and health experts that the high temperatures that Delhi is experiencing along with dust is trapping dangerous toxins in the air which could have long-term dangerous consequences for millions of residents,” Al Jazeera’s Nidhi Dutt, reporting from Delhi, said.
Hundreds of mainly poor people die at the height of summer every year in India, but this year’s figures are already nearly double the annual average.
People across India have been plunging into rivers, staying in the shade and drinking lots of water to try to beat the heat. Scorched crops and dying wildlife were reported, with some animals succumbing to thirst.
Many farmers and construction workers struggling with poverty were still working outdoors despite the risks, they along with the impoverished elderly were among the most vulnerable.
“How do we cope up with the heat? We have to raise kids and so we have to work even though it’s hot. Otherwise what will our children eat?” said 38-year-old bricklayer Sunder in Gurgaon, a satellite town near Delhi.
Disaster management officials have said more needs to be done to alert residents to the risks of staying outside in the heat, particularly if the heat waves persist.
Cooling monsoon rains were expected next week in the south before gradually advancing north.
However, forecasting service AccuWeather warned of prolonged drought conditions, with the monsoon likely to be disrupted by a more active typhoon season over the Pacific.
The heat wave is now the fifth-deadliest in recorded world history and the second-deadliest in India’s history, according to EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database.