A new study reveals that killer heat waves are placing unprecedented burdens on India’s agriculture, economy, and public health as reported by Economic Times. The research, conducted by a team of scholars led by the University of Cambridge’s Ramit Debnath, shows that extreme heat has resulted in more than 24,000 deaths since 1992, driven up air pollution, and accelerated glacial melt in northern India. The study highlights how climate change is undermining India’s long-term efforts to reduce poverty, inequality, and illness.
According to the researchers, India is now “facing a collision of multiple, cumulative climate hazards,” with extreme weather happening almost every day from January to October last year. The country’s vulnerability to frequent extreme events needs to be measured, and the Indian government’s own “climate vulnerability index” is believed to underestimate the impact that longer, earlier, and more frequent heatwaves will have on development. As much as 90% of India’s total area now lies in extreme heat danger zones, and the country is not fully prepared, warns Debnath.
India has already done quite a bit in terms of heat mitigation, recognizing heatwaves as part of their disaster relief package. However, there is a need to optimize the pace of these plans, says Debnath. While the adaptation measures put on paper are quite substantial, they need to be implemented more efficiently. The researchers also warn that heatwaves are weakening India’s efforts to meet its “Social Development Goals,” a list of 17 U.N. objectives to cut poverty, hunger, inequality, and disease.
Extreme heat could ultimately lead to a 15% decline in “outdoor working capacity,” reduce the quality of life of up to 480 million people, and cost 2.8% of GDP by 2050, says the study. Falling productivity caused by extreme high temperatures could already be costing India 5.4% of its GDP, according to the Climate Transparency Report published by environmental groups last year.