Suspected heat stroke kills two as extreme temperatures scorch India

Ongoing general election likely to see lower voter turnout as temperatures shoot above 40C in many regions

Stuti Mishra
Asia Climate Correspondent
Monday 29 April 2024 13:24 BST
Related: How will the climate crisis affect US voters?

Two people have died from suspected heat stroke as India battles another year of intense heat waves with temperatures crossing 40C and posing a challenge to the ongoing national elections.

Indian media identified the dead as a 90-year-old woman and a 53-year-old man from the southern state of Kerala, where temperatures soared to 41.9C, nearly 5.5C above normal.

“We are yet to confirm whether these deaths were due to heat waves. The medical process for examining the deaths is on,” Kerala disaster management official Shekhar Kuriakose said.

South Asia, along with South East Asia, has been sizzling under extreme temperatures for several weeks now. Bangladesh has shut all schools while the Philippines has moved schooling online. Thailand and Pakistan have suffered heat waves as well.

In India, over 140 weather stations recorded temperatures of 40C and above on Sunday with some regions recording as high as 45.6C.

The extreme heat has been at least partly blamed for the low voter turnout in the second phase of the national elections which saw polling across 13 states and union territories voting last week. It saw 63 per cent of those eligible voting, down further from the 66 per cent turnout in the first phase on 19 April.

Some 94 constituencies across 12 states are set to vote on 7 May, with no end in sight for the heat. The Indian Meteorological Department has predicted “heatwave to severe heatwave” conditions to continue in eastern and southern India for the next five days. Several eastern states are under a “red alert” until the end of April.

The threshold for a heatwave is met in India when the maximum temperature of a weather station touches 40C in the plains, 37C in coastal areas and 30C in hilly regions, or the departure from normal is at least 4.5 degrees. A severe heatwave is declared if the temperature is at least 6.4 degrees above normal.

The Met department has warned India could see more heatwave days between April and June this year than it normally does.

Last year has already been confirmed as the hottest on record. The Met also echoed the concerns of the World Meteorological Organisation that 2024 is poised to break new records.

The longer heatwave period is also posing a challenge to India’s key crops, especially wheat, as April is the sowing season, increasing the risk that the country’s curbs on grain exports will remain.

The weather bureau has said any relief is unlikely before May.

India’s heat is getting more intense as the world heats due to the human-caused climate crisis. Higher night temperatures are also becoming more common because of the urban heat island effect, which makes cities significantly hotter than their rural surroundings.

In April 2023, a study found that the climate crisis made Asia’s heatwave 30 times more likely and at least 2C hotter.

Another study published in The Lancet said heat-related deaths in India rose by 55 per cent between 2004 and 2021.

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