‘Carried 26 bodies’: More deaths in north India amid extreme heat

India’s weather office issues red alert warning in some states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

India heatwave
An elderly person suffering from heat related ailment is carried on a stretcher to a government hospital in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh state [Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

About 170 people have died in two of India’s most populous states in recent days amid a sweltering heatwave, officials say, as hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and routine power outages add to the challenges.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, 119 people have died from heat-related illnesses over the last several days while in neighbouring Bihar, 47 people have died, The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday citing local media and health officials.

While northern states of India are known for extreme heat during the summer months, temperatures have been consistently above normal, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), with highs in recent days reaching 43.5 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit).

A heatwave is declared in India if temperatures are at least 4.5C (8.1F) above normal or if the temperature is above 45C (113F).

The IMD issued a red alert warning last week for extreme heat in some states of the country, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

“We have been issuing heatwave warnings for the past few days,” said Atul Kumar Singh, a scientist at the IMD.

Despite the warnings, government officials did not ask people to brace for the heat until Sunday, when the death toll began to increase.

The largest hospital in Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh, about 970km (600 miles) southeast of New Delhi, is unable to accommodate more patients, officials said, and its morgue was overwhelmed after 54 people died due to the heat.

India heatwave
People stand in queue to register outside the district hospital in Ballia [Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

The government said the cause of the deaths, which occurred over three days last week in Ballia, was being investigated.

“Deaths have occurred in the district but it is very difficult to say if that happened due to the heatwave,” Ravindra Kumar, the top administrative official of the district, told the Reuters news agency, without confirming the number of deaths.

“A few of the deaths are related to old age, while some have different reasons. There is no concrete evidence of heatwave behind these deaths.”

The state government fired Diwakar Singh, the chief medical officer at the main state hospital in Ballia, for saying that the deaths were due to heat.

State’s Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak said on social media that Singh had been removed from his position for making an “irresponsible statement”.

‘I carried 26 dead bodies’

Adding to the heat stress are consistent power outages across the region, leaving people with no running water, fans or air-conditioners.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the government was taking measures to ensure an uninterrupted power supply in the state. He urged citizens to cooperate with the government and use electricity judiciously.

“Every village and every city should receive adequate power supply during this scorching heat. If any faults occur, they should be promptly addressed,” he said in a statement on Friday night.

Inside Ballia district hospital, the chaotic scenes were reminiscent of the coronavirus pandemic, with families and doctors scrambling even as many patients required urgent medical attention, the AP reported.

The corridors smelled of urine, rubbish and medical waste, and hospital walls were stained with betel leaf spit, the news agency said.

“All our staff has been here for three days straight and are completely overworked,” said Dr Aditya Singh, an emergency medical officer.

The wards in the hospital had no functioning air-conditioners, AP said, adding that attendants were fanning patients with books and wiping their sweat in an attempt to keep them cool.

India heatwave
A woman wipes the head of her ailing brother using a wet cloth at a hospital in Ballia [Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

Officials in the district hospital say more serious cases were being shifted to hospitals in bigger cities nearby such as Varanasi and more doctors and medical resources were being sent to the district hospital to deal with the heat-induced crisis.

Outside, Ballia residents told the AP they were scared of going outdoors after midmorning.

“So many people are dying from the heat that we are not getting a minute’s time to rest. On Sunday, I carried 26 dead bodies,” said Jitendra Kumar Yadav, a hearse driver in Deoria town, 110km (68 miles) from Ballia.

Climate experts say heatwaves will continue and India needs to prepare better to deal with their consequences. A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that examines the source of extreme heat, found that a searing heatwave in April that struck parts of South Asia was made at least 30 times more likely by climate change.

“Plans for dealing with heatwaves are essential for minimising their effects and preserving lives. These plans include all-inclusive approaches to dealing with high heat occurrences, such as public awareness campaigns, the provision of cooling centres, and healthcare assistance,” said Aditya Valiathan Pillai, an associate fellow at Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.

Source: News Agencies