By Yusra Khan:
The hottest months in India tend to be May and June, but summer arrived early in the country this year. And the temperatures have consistently risen, as the country has been swept by a brutal pre-monsoon heatwave it had been too unequipped to cope with – more than 330 million people in the country are currently at risk, and thousands have died around the country due to heat strokes and dehydration. Rivers are rapidly drying up.
Remote village areas are the most affected, as Laxman Nale, a villager from a remote Maharashtrian district puts it in his interview to The Times of India, “Most of this water was sent to Latur which is well-connected by the railway. As our village does not have rail access, we could not get any help from the government.” Trains carrying around three million litres of water have been sent to Latur, but Laxman’s village is forced to buy tanker water when supply is cut short for weeks on end, and there is no water left to drink. It is more than they can afford – but they are doing what they can to survive. Besides water shortages, electricity supply is also proving to be a problem – especially for people on the margins of society.
India has witnessed many such prolonged heatstrokes, but none so deadly as this one – each time in 1995 and 1998, the death toll had crossed 1,000. This monstrous wave has deprived people of basic amenities; farmers cannot find the strength to live as droughts continue to kill all hopes of repaying any debts, water is a scarcity at a time when it is most needed, and there is barely any food on the table due to crop failure. Heatwaves have managed to kill 2,422 in the past one year and soaring temperatures continue to kill people in scores; Southern states have been most affected with Telangana and Andhra Pradesh facing t worst ravages.
After an order issued by the High Court, the Indian Premiere League (IPL) shifted 13 of its matches outside the state of Maharashtra due to the flak it faced for wasting water to prepare pitches when man and animal alike were dying due to lack of drinking water. Despite warnings from researchers telling us that the heat wave is going to last for some time now, and the meteorological department providing no immediate relief, the government is yet to treat heat wave attacks as natural calamities.
Even though we recognise hailstorms and even cold waves as natural disasters, we do not give much thought to heat waves. It’s just summer heat, right? Wrong. Summer heat is not supposed to kill people. Even the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) does not provide any more than a list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts‘ that list generic advice to citizens and no real time help. Families who need compensation the most are being denied the money they deserve. India’s Minister for Science & Technology, and Earth Sciences, Harsh Vardhan, said in June, last year, “It is not just unusually hot summer. It is climate change.”
While we cannot dictate nature’s laws, we can certainly ask our governments to protect us from its wrath. Ahmedabad is the only city that has established a Heat Action Plan – a first in South East Asia. Local bodies can help set up water tankers near construction sites to provide cool water to labourers who have no other option but to work in this sweltering heat, and taxi, rickshaw, and bus drivers can be provided with indoor jobs in government sectors through appeal as it gets impossibly hot for them to drive on roads during peak hours.
We have to do the best we can and – for those of us who have that luxury – take all the precautionary measures, like keeping ourselves hydrated and eating light to prevent avoidable heat strokes from occurring. We know it will be some time before the rains provide us with the relief we are wishing and praying for.