Nagpur, one of the most beautiful cities in central India, was in the news recently for reaching the highest temperature in the last 10 years. Traditionally, Nagpur has always been known for being a city with extreme temperatures where winters are as cool as 7° Celsius and summers higher than the forties. Yet a look at the highest temperatures of Nagpur and the adjacent cities in the last decade shows alarming statistics – almost all the temperature records from the last century have been broken.
Similar trends have been observed in various other cities of India like Churu in Rajasthan, Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and some parts of Telangana. While the heat wave in Nagpur is already rumoured to have killed five people, the numbers are expected to rise as summer is just beginning. Long-term data gathered from the Indian Meteorological Department’s (IMD) 103 weather stations highlight a dramatic increase in temperatures from 1961 to 2010. All of which goes to show that, along with scarcity of water and erratic rainfall, the rising temperatures across the country is one of the most serious environmental issues which needs to be dealt with immediately.
Geographically, a major part of central India is occupied by the large Deccan plateau extending to eight Indian states and encompassing a wide range of habitats. The plateau is located between two mountain ranges, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, almost converging at the southern tip of India. The plateau, already receiving very little rainfall due to the tall Western Ghats blocking the monsoon rains, is known for its arid and dry weather. The black regur soil spread across the major part of the plateau is also known for absorbing heat and keeping it intact leading to a rise in the ground temperature. Add to this, the increase in urbanisation, industrialisation, pollution and uncontrolled destruction of forests – and we have a fail-safe formula for hotter summers with higher temperatures.
The year 2015 witnessed one of the most severe heat waves of all times, which resulted in the death of at least 2500 people – and the death toll may even be much higher, according to officials, as a large number of heat related deaths in rural India are not reported. The states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were the worst hit, with the estimated death tolls being around 1735 and 585 respectively. Deaths happen due to extreme dehydration, sun strokes, and in some cases, heat induced diarrhoea and vomiting. A majority of the deceased were daily wage workers, children, middle aged women, farmers and people working out in the open rather than the interiors of their offices.
According to the IMD, a heat wave occurs when air temperatures reach at least 40 °C (104 °F) in the plains or greater than 30 °C (86 °F) in the hilly regions. Temperatures greater than 46 °C (114.8 °F) are classified as severe heat waves. The last decade between 2001 and 2010 has been found to be the warmest for India and, indeed, for the rest of the world. During the 2015 heat wave, temperatures in Khammam in Telangana reached 48º Celsius on May 23, 2015 while Allahabad city saw temperatures reach 47.7º Celsius. In most of India’s celebrated hill stations, including Mussorie, Shimla, Darjeeling, Dalhousie and Chail, temperatures have risen by more than five degrees in the summer months during the last five decades, according to government figures.
Scientists believe that one of the main reasons for these heat waves is the occurrence of El Nino in the Pacific coast of South America, which adversely affects the Indian monsoon, resulting in less rain and corresponding higher temperatures. Also, the amount of carbon dioxide concentration in the air has increased by 40% since pre-industrial times. The total amount of carbon human beings emit should not exceed 800 gigatons, but by 2011, 531 gigatons had already been emitted. Add to this the glacial melting and increasing deforestation that adversely impact rainfall and water cycles. The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has warned that north and west India will face an increase of 4 to 5º Celsius in temperature while south India will face an increase in tropical nights.
Increasing temperature and erratic rainfall can lead to an increase in weather-related calamities like the torrential rain that hit Uttarakhand in June 2013 and the heavy rainfall that caused flooding of the Jhelum river in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, resulting in large-scale human destruction. Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development warned that 54,000 glaciers in the Himalayas could melt and create glacial lakes which would rupture their banks and destroy the surrounding infrastructure and agriculture. India is still extremely ill prepared to deal with sudden natural calamities. Lack of infrastructure and planning and unavailability of other sustainable resources can lead to huge loss of life, flora and fauna. At the same time, there can be severe drought situations which can again impact the agricultural produce and also lead to diseases, health issues, and malnutrition.
The solution for controlling the rise in temperature should as much be a global initiative as it should be local.
This post was originally published on the author’s blog and has been republished with permission.