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South Asia’s intense heat wave is a ‘sign of things to come’


NEW DELHI (AP) — The devastating heat wave that has engulfed India and Pakistan in recent months has been made more likely by climate change, according to an international group of scientists. This, they say, is a glimpse of what the future holds for the region.

The World Weather Attribution group analyzed weather data for the region dating back 70 years and suggested in a study on Monday that a heat wave like this – which sets in early, lasts long and affects a wide geographic area – is always rare, a once-in-a-century event. But global warming of 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels due to human-induced climate change has made it 30 times more likely.

If warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), heat waves like this could occur twice a century or even once every five years, said Arpita Mondal, a climatologist at the Indian Institute. of Mumbai Technology, which was part of the study.

“It’s a sign of things to come,” Mondal said.

The results are conservative: an analysis released last week by the UK Met Office said the heatwave was likely made 100 times more likely by climate change, with such scorching temperatures likely to recur every third years.

The World Weather Attribution analysis is different because it attempts to calculate how specific aspects of the heat wave, such as length and region affected, were made more likely by global warming. “The actual result is probably somewhere between ours and the Met Office (UK) result for how much climate change has augmented this event,” said Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London. , which was also part of the study.

What is certain, however, is the devastation caused by the heat wave. India had the hottest March in the country since records began in 1901 and April was the hottest on record in Pakistan and parts of India. The effects were cascading and widespread: a glacier erupted in Pakistan, causing flooding downstream; early heat scorched wheat crops in India, forcing it to ban exports to countries reeling from food shortages due to Russia’s war in Ukraine; it also led to an early surge in electricity demand in India which depleted coal reserves, leading to severe power shortages affecting millions of people.

Then there is the impact on human health. At least 90 people have died in the two countries, but insufficient death registration in the region means it is likely an undercount. South Asia is the hardest hit by heat stress, according to an Associated Press analysis of a data set released by Columbia University’s Climate School. India alone is home to more than a third of the world’s population who live in regions with increasing extreme heat.

Experts agree that the heat wave underscores the need for the world not only to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also to adapt as quickly as possible to its harmful effects. Children and the elderly are most at risk from heat stress, but its impact is also disproportionately greater for the poor who may not have access to cooling or water and often live in hotter crowded slums. than greener and more affluent neighborhoods.

Rahman Ali, 42, a rag picker in an eastern suburb of India’s capital, New Delhi, earns less than $3 a day collecting trash from homes and sorting it to salvage anything that can be sold. It’s backbreaking work and his tin-roofed house in the crowded slum offers little respite from the heat.

“What can we do? If I don’t work…we won’t eat,” the father-of-two said.

Some Indian cities have tried to find solutions. The western city of Ahmedabad was the first in South Asia to devise a heatwave plan for its population of over 8.4 million, since 2013. The plan includes an early warning system that tells health workers and residents to prepare for heat waves. , allows administrations to keep parks open so people can get shade, and provides information to schools so they can change their schedules.

The city has also tried to “cool” the roofs by experimenting with various materials that absorb heat differently. Their goal is to build roofs that will reflect the sun and lower interior temperatures by using reflective white paint or cheaper materials like dried grass, said Dr Dileep Mavalankar, who heads the Indian Institute of Health. in the city of Gandhinagar, in western India, and contributed to the design of the 2013 plan.

Most Indian cities are less prepared, and the Indian federal government is currently working with 130 cities in 23 heatwave-prone Indian states to develop similar plans. Earlier this month, the federal government also asked states to educate health workers on the management of heat-related illnesses and to ensure that ice packs, oral rehydration salts and cooling in hospitals are available.

But Mavalankar, who was not part of the study, pointed to the lack of government warnings in newspapers or on television for most Indian cities and said local governments simply did not woken up in the heat.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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