Severe heat and dust wave sweeps across India

New Delhi: Since Monday, nearly two-thirds of the country has been under a spell of a heatwave and India Meteorological Department (IMD) expects it to be the longest ever.

Churu in Rajasthan became the hottest place on Earth when it touched 50.8 degrees on Monday. Severe heatwave has also gripped western, central and northern parts of the country. Thus, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh will continue to face the heat until this week.

On Monday, at 48 degrees Celsius, parts of Delhi touched an all-time high for a June day. On Tuesday, Safdarjung, considered the base for the city, recorded the maximum and minimum temperatures of 44.5 degrees C, five notches above normal and 30.4, two points above normal. The temperature in Palam is usually high because of vast open area, heavy vehicular and aircraft movement and thin tree cover. But, surprisingly, Ridge, which has a huge density of trees, witnessed maximum temperature of 46.9 degrees C on Tuesday.


An IMD study has found threefold increase in heatwaves every year since 1991. The root cause is unsustainable development and the cumulative effect of water management in the plains, which is showing its impact on climate. Other than that, factors including green cover, vehicular pollution, terrain, density of buildings and availability of air corridors govern the temperatures in localities.


The mindless destruction of Aravalli’s is a major reason attributed to the heatwave in certain parts of the country. The Aravalli mountain range spans four states — Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. The last stretch is Delhi’s Ridge. Experts claim that Ridge area comprised 7,777 hectares. But, over the years, it has shrunk by 25 per cent. The reason being — development of roads, residential colonies and religious and other institutions in the vicinity. The main heat and dust barrier in Delhi, it has also been flattened in several portions due to mining assault.


Every year, the sweltering heat of the northern plains drives thousands of people to hill stations in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. As a result, all approach roads to these destinations are clogged. This, in turn, is putting pressure on hill towns, making them vulnerable, as their ecosystem is not accustomed to such an influx.


Pollution levels in Delhi have shot up to near ‘severe’ levels because of intense heat and strong winds. Although the dust storm on Wednesday brought down the temperature by a few notches, it led to a sharp increase in dust pollution. According to a statement issued by SAFAR, the pollution-forecasting agency of the ministry of earth sciences, “A severe dust storm originated from the Sistan Basin in Afghanistan and the dust travelled up to Karachi in Pakistan on Monday. A diluted plume is likely to hit northern part of India, including Delhi, by Wednesday-Thursday. Also, fresh dust uplift due to strong surface winds from Thar Desert is expected.”


It is not the first time the Capital is witnessing a dust storm that originated beyond the international borders. Last year, a dust storm in Oman had pushed up pollution levels in Delhi. Similarly, in 2017, a dust storm in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait had resulted in nearly 40 per cent increase of the dust level in Delhi.


Hospitals have declared an emergency, as doctors say there has been a 40 per cent rise in heat stroke cases in the past few days. Hospitals are inundated with patients in critical condition with high body temperature and heart rate, headache, cramps and loss of consciousness and seizures. Terming the heatwave “extremely dangerous”, doctors have been advising people to drink at least five litres of water daily and eat fruits like watermelon and muskmelon, as they have high water content. Also, a wet towel placed around the neck helps in such dry heat. The doctors are also warning people to never leave anyone in a parked car, as this is a common cause related to deaths in children.


The pre-monsoon season has been the second driest in 65 years, with the country witnessing 99mm of rainfall during this period against the average of 131.5mm in addition, several rivers, including Cauvery, Krishna and Godavari have seen a significant drop in their flows. And over the years, hundreds of small seasonal rivers are perishing. Due to this, the underground water table has severely depleted in several regions creating acute water shortages in cities. Sizzling temperatures in the country have added to it.


Almost half the country is facing water crisis. The situation has left millions of people in Delhi and National Capital Region seething in anger even in the gated communities. In certain areas, people complain of sewage in the taps. From cities like Bengaluru to arid rural area like Bundelkhand, all are suffering from acute water shortage. From Tamil Nadu and Karnataka down south to Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west and Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in the north, several areas are facing drought conditions. It is likewise in Chennai.


The Narendra Modi government has set a target of providing clean drinking water to over 140 million households by 2024. In states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, the coverage of clean drinking water is less than five per cent. Facing the widening gap between water supply and demand, emphasis will be laid on water conservation facilities.

[ June 14, 2019]