The devastating heat wave that has hit India and Pakistan in recent months has been made more likely due to climate change, according to a study by an international group of scientists released on Monday.
This, they say, is a glimpse of what the future holds for the region.
The World Weather Attribution initiative analyzed historical weather data and suggested that early and long heat waves that affect a large geographic area are rare events, occurring once in a century. But the current level of global warming, caused by human-induced climate change, has made these heat waves 30 times more likely.
If global warming increases to 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, heat waves like this could occur twice in a century and up to once every five years, said Arpita Mondal, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, who was part of the study.
“It’s a sign of things to come,” Mondal said.
Conservative estimate of the link with climate change
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.
Global weather attribution analysis is different, as 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 real result is probably somewhere between ours and the [U.K.] The Met Office reports to what extent climate change has increased this event,” said Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London, who was also involved in 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, sending floods downstream, and early heat scorched wheat crops in India, forcing it to ban exports to countries reeling from shortages. food due to Russia’s war in Ukraine,
The heatwave also led to an early peak 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 part of the world most affected by heat stress, according to an analysis by the Associated Press of a dataset published by the Climate School at Columbia University. India alone is home to more than a third of the world’s population living 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 crowded slums that are warmer than greener, more affluent neighborhoods.
“If I don’t work…we won’t eat”
Rahman Ali, 42, a rag picker in an eastern suburb of India’s capital New Delhi, earns less than US$3 a day collecting rubbish from people’s 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 don’t eat,” said the father of two.
Some Indian cities have tried to find solutions. The western city of Ahmedabad was the first in South Asia to devise a heat wave 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 seek 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 aim is to build roofs that will reflect the sun and lower interior temperatures by using reflective white paint or cheaper materials such as dried grass, said Dileep Mavalankar, who heads the Indian Institute of Public Health. of the city of Gandhinagar, in western India, and helped design the 2013 plan.
Most Indian cities are less prepared, and the Indian federal government is currently working with 130 cities in 23 heatwave-prone states across the country to help them 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 and on television for most Indian cities and said local governments simply did not ” woken up in the heat”.