Poor bear brunt as India heatwave death toll tops 1,000

Over 1,100 people die, with workers, elderly or homeless people among those worst hit as temperatures approaches 50C.

More than 1,100 people have died in a major heatwave sweeping India, authorities said, as forecasters
warned searing temperatures would continue.

Southern India has borne the brunt of the hot, dry conditions and many of the victims are construction workers, elderly or homeless people unable to heed official advice to stay indoors.

Roads have melted in parts of the capital, New Delhi, where forecasters said they expected the high temperatures to continue into next week – adding to the misery of thousands living on the capital’s streets with little shelter from the hot sun.

Hospitals in the worst-affected states were on alert to treat victims of heatstroke and authorities advised people to stay indoors and drink plenty of water as temperatures topped 45 degrees Celsius.

Hundreds of people – mainly from the poorest sections of society – die at the height of summer every year across the country, while tens of thousands suffer power cuts from an overburdened electricity grid.

Insufferable heat 

Al Jazeera meteorologist Richard Angwin said temperatures well in excess of 40C were expected to continue ahead of the cooling monsoon rains.

Road markings appear distorted as the asphalt starts to melt due to the high temperature in New Delhi [EPA]Road markings appear distorted as the asphalt starts to melt due to the high temperature in New Delhi [EPA]

“For the worst affected areas, these rains are still a few weeks away, so the heat will remain a problem,” he said.

“For parts of southeastern India, the high humidity is making for particularly severe weather conditions. Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are experiencing insufferable heat and humidity, with nighttime temperatures barely falling below 30C.”

He said the situation in those areas was expected to improve only towards the end of the coming week, and that the heat would remain across more central and northern parts of the country for the “foreseeable future”.

Authorities in the worst-hit state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, where nearly 900 people have died since May 18, called for emergency water distribution areas to be set up.

Pallav Bagla, science editor of New Delhi Television, said the real death toll could actually be higher than that given by authorities, since “no one really records whether a person has died because of overheating or for some other reason”.

“These are people who have been exposed to heat and have come into hospital reporting heatstrokes,” he said of the deaths reported by authorities.

He told Al Jazeera that since most of the victims were construction workers and daily wage earners, local governments had ordered those working on government schemes to take breaks between 11am and 4pm. 

A labourer cools off under a water tap in Amritsar [EPA]A labourer cools off under a water tap in Amritsar [EPA]
Source: AFP, Al Jazeera