India’s deadly heat kills over 200 people, including dozens of poll workers as elections wrap up

One state reported 45 deaths in a single day as heatwaves continue

Stuti Mishra
Asia Climate Correspondent
Monday 03 June 2024 13:00 BST
Locals mob water truck as heat wave scorches northern India

Over 200 people, including dozens of workers on election duty, have died in the last few days in India as the country continued to reel from the cascading impacts of heatwaves.

At least 50 deaths have been reported in just the last 72 hours with the total tally for heatstroke-related deaths now standing at 211.

Out of these 50, at least 33 were workers stationed on election duty who died on Saturday when India was conducting the seventh and last phase of its mammoth six week long elections.

Most of these people were working as home guards, sanitation workers, and other poll staff.

Election duty is compulsory in India for public sector employees. They’re assigned by the election commission before polling begins.

A voter also died at a polling booth in the Sikandarpur area of Ballia city during the polling.

The election commission of India has been criticised for not taking the heatwave warnings in consideration while planning the national elections with close to a billion eligible voters.

Voters have been coming out in searing heat without any preparations made to protect them. In earlier phases, voters have complained of discomfort and local media reported several people fainting in heat.

India’s heatwave has been brutal this year, with temperatures close to 50 degrees Celsius in Delhi, prompting a water and electricity crisis. Dozens of heatwave related deaths have been reported in recent days from different states.

The eastern state of Odisha was the hardest hit and reported 45 deaths in a single day.

Heatwave days across India have increased by 125 per cent in May, a record jump compared to normal, impacting a billion people, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

A hospital staff member pours water on the face of a patient suffering from heat stroke at a government hospital during a severe heatwave in Varanasi
A hospital staff member pours water on the face of a patient suffering from heat stroke at a government hospital during a severe heatwave in Varanasi (AFP via Getty Images)

“This could be the worst summer in the last 120 years, at least for north India,” Vimal Mishra, professor of Earth Sciences at IIT Gandhinagar, told news agency PTI.

“Never have temperatures gone so high – more than 45-47 degrees Celsius – for such a vast region, which is also densely populated. This is a record in itself.”

The IMD has said the conditions could improve over the next 2-3 days.

Scientific studies in India’s heatwave in 2022, 2023 and 2024 have evaluated that human-caused climate crisis was responsible for extreme temperatures in India, causing longer and more extreme heatwaves.

This summer has also brought record-breaking temperatures to the rest of Asia and the last 12 months have been the hottest on record for the entire planet.

India is one of the most vulnerable places on Earth for deadly heatwaves. Half of the country’s population works outdoors. The impact of extreme heat in Indian cities is also intensified by lack of green spaces and large scale concretisation.

The burning heat prompted Delhi high court to warn the government that the city could turn into a “barren desert” if deforestation continues unchecked.

The court has directed the Delhi government to provide the necessary infrastructure to support the committee overseeing forest protection, now renamed the ‘Special Empowered Committee.’

Meanwhile, as north and central India grappled with heat, neighbouring Pakistan is also suffering from extreme temperatures, while parts of north India and Bangladesh are grappling with flooding caused by cyclone Remal. Majority of Sri Lanka is also under flood and landslide alerts due to torrential rains.

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