Heatwave in India
Climate Change Featured India

Extreme Heatwaves: India Facing the Hottest Summers Since 112 Years

As the peninsula country reels into severe heatwaves, environmentalists fear this to be the worst summer India has seen in a long time. 

Climate Change Infused Extreme Heatwaves

Due to the sweltering heatwave, India has recorded over a dozen deaths in the past two months. Experts are pushing the blame on high temperatures driven by climate change.

Over the weekend, the capital recorded a temperature of 49.2 degrees Celcius. Though a temperature spike in India is not new, the blistering heatwaves since the beginning of March have been quite staggering, making it the hottest summer recorded.

According to an ongoing study by the Met Department, the frequency of heatwaves days in India has rapidly increased every the last ten years. The reports highlight that the number of days with exceptionally hot temperatures has risen steadily at 103 weather stations, mainly in inland areas, from 413 in 1981-90 to 600 in 2011-20.

The most recent figures, which have yet to be released, are an update of a previous study conducted at the same meteorological stations through 2010. According to the researchers, most of the 103 weather stations documented a considerably growing trend in heatwave frequency between April and June between 1961 and 2020.

Sweltrting Capital: The Overflowing Landfills of Delhi

The impact of rising heat is visible. In Delhi, the capital city, fires broke out in two of the largest landfills, devastating lives working and living near the garbage heaps.

The dump in Bhalswa, north of Delhi, is taller than a 17-story structure and extends over 50 football fields. Thousands of people living and working at the landfill had begun the risky task of trying to save waste from the fire earlier this month.

Summers are especially difficult for the rag-pickers in the region. The decomposition of wastes in the landfills produces methane, a highly combustible gas that often leads to fire in extreme weather conditions. With the air filled with strong-smelling gases, the workers are forced to work in life-risking conditions.

The current fire’s landfill was scheduled to close more than a decade ago, yet more than 2,300 tonnes of waste from the city is being deposited there every day. As organic garbage decomposes in landfills, extremely flammable methane gas accumulates.

“This spontaneous combustion will occur at high temperatures.”

Stated Ravi Agarwal, the director of Toxics Link.

Understanding the Complexities of Heatwaves & Landfills

Scientists believe that the spiking cases of landfill fires result from the rising global temperatures. These fires, in turn, contribute to an increase in heat and air pollution. And those living in the vicinity of the landfills are especially vulnerable.

Fire in Landfills of Delhi

For example, the Ghazipur landfill, one of the three tallest and largest garbage yards in the capital, is dumped with tons of new waste every day. And when the temperature rises during summers, these landfills catch fire almost every year. This year, the Gazipur landfill has already witnessed three fire outbreaks, with the largest flaming up in the last week of March, which lasted three days.

Furthermore, fire is not the only problem in landfills. For example, methane produced in such landfills is a significant source of global warming. To tackle the problem caused by the huge dump yards in India, proper waste management must be implemented. And until the authorities manage to catch up with the needed changes, the vicus circle of high temperature, poor waste management, and smoldering landfills will continue to make life difficult for many in the region.

Heat Waves Transforming the Himalayas

The high temperatures in March did not spare the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, which generally have milder temperatures at this time of year, showing a nationwide spike in temperatures.

According to Pai, the IMD study indicated that the mountainous region’s number of cold wave days has decreased over the last three decades. 

Heatwaves in Himalayas
Heatwaves in the Himalayas

Furthermore, parts of western Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha were the most impacted within India’s core heatwave zone between 1961 and 2020, according to the Atlas, including heatwave occurrences in April, May, June, and July.

The worldwide average covers regions like Antarctica, but it does not apply to all of India, where average temperatures have risen quicker. And to add more fuel to the fire, the IPCC study concludes that India would see more frequent and extreme heatwaves in the foreseeable future.

Climate Change: Finding Solutions

India has entered into a new era of extreme heat, driven by global warming. However, with the heatwaves hitting the region as early as March and extremely prolonged-lasting months and hitting the areas that were not previously susceptible to heatwaves, the catastrophe of climate change is unravelling.

“The heat waves that we are experiencing in Southern-east Asia, especially in India and Pakistan, are primarily driven by global warming.”

Chandra Bushan, Environmentalist and CEO Forrest

The extreme heat is again disproportionally affecting the poor and marginalized. Furthermore, 50% of India’s population work in agriculture, while most are engaged as construction workers and laborers, which requires hours of outdoor heat exposure.

Heatwaves killed over 1,300 people in Ahmedabad alone in 2010, spurring attempts to build synchronized heat response strategies.

Many cities and regions around the country have also hurried to build and execute city-centric and regional heat action plans to alleviate the effects of high heat on the general public, particularly those working outside, since they initially started 5-to 6 years ago.

High summer temperatures and ensuing heatwaves require prompt mitigation. Therefore, both short-term actions such as advisories and long-term ones such as afforestation must be implemented simultaneously to tackle the worsening issue of climate change, not only at the national but a global level.