Climate change worsens heat wave in India and Pakistan

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The searing heat that has scorched northwest India and Pakistan for weeks was likely made 100 times more likely by human-induced climate change, according to new analysis released by Britain’s Met Office on Wednesday.

The persistent heat, which began in March, has altered the lives of millions of people in the region, straining outdoor workers, shortening the school calendar and reducing crop yields.

The Met Office analysis looked at how climate change increased the risk of such heat, using the record-breaking event in April and May 2010 – which 2022 is expected to surpass – as a benchmark.

In the absence of climate change, an event like the 2010 heat wave would only be expected every 300 years, according to the analysis. But taking into account the effects of increased heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels, researchers now expect record high temperatures about every three years.

“Given the extremes we have seen in recent weeks, one would expect the previous record from 2010 to be broken this year and we find that indeed human influence would make this event about 100 times more likely” , Nikos Christidis, the study’s lead researcher, wrote in an email.

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The scorching temperatures this spring have set many records in the region. India suffered its highest temperatures in March in 122 years of records. It was then the hottest April on record in Pakistan and northwest and central India.

Temperatures are also well above average in May. On Sunday, New Delhi reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 Celsius), just below its monthly high. The city of Jacobabad in Pakistan reached 123.8 degrees (51 degrees Celsius) on Sunday and 122 degrees (50 degrees Celsius) on Saturday.

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Outdoor workers, who make up a large part of India’s workforce, are in shock.

For years Chandra Mohan, 31, a construction worker in the city of Gurgaon, near Delhi, has done backbreaking work outdoors. But work has recently felt intolerable.

“Before, I worked seven days a week. Now I can barely manage five days,” Mohan said.

The heat wave has brought misery beyond physical exertion for workers like Mohan. This has resulted in a loss of income — less work is available and possible. This led to higher expenses – to buy cold water and drinks at work. This has led to nightly power cuts, making nighttime rest difficult.

“I don’t know how we are going to survive in the days to come,” he said.

Another heatstroke is forecast for Thursday and Friday, concentrated in northern India and Pakistan. Temperatures could again approach 122 degrees (50 degrees Celsius) in the interior of Pakistan, while much of northern India could see maximum temperatures of at least 108 degrees (42 degrees Celsius).

For bicycle taxi driver Shiv Kumar, 25, the heat has brought illness. His eyes sting when sweat pours into them from wearing a helmet. His head itches at the end of each day.

“My clothes are soaked with sweat after driving all day,” Kumar said. “Now I have rashes all over.”

Kumar, a resident of Noida, outside Delhi, started working as a bicycle taxi driver two months ago for better pay. Now he could soon be back on the job market.

“I have to start looking for other jobs,” he said. “I didn’t realize this job would be so difficult.”

Vimal Mishra, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, said the heat waves of the past two months are unprecedented in the last century or more due to their early onset, persistence and widespread effects.

As the heat drags on into May amid persistent drought, Mishra said, some areas could experience drinking water shortages. “If the monsoon is delayed or does not come or does not come in June, then this period could be even longer,” he said.

India’s unusually long heat spell came as researchers documented an increase in the number of hot and humid days in recent decades.

“India has seen one of the fastest increases in urban extreme heat exposure in the world,” Cascade Tuholske, postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, wrote in an email. “Part of the increase in exposure is due to the increase in urban population, but the rate of increase in dangerous hot and humid days for many major Indian cities is alarming.”

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Met Office analysis has found that temperatures in the region could be as hot as the 2010 record event virtually every year by the end of the century unless emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are not reduced.

Mishra, who was not involved in the analysis, said this scenario is “certainly plausible” if countries fail to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels. But even with lower greenhouse gas emissions, he said, much of the country will still face more intense heat waves.

“It’s not like we’re just restricting 1.5 or 2 degrees [of warming], we will be in a much better position,” said Mishra, who found that heat waves would likely increase sixfold under 2 degrees Celsius warming. “Even half a degree of additional warming or one degree of additional warming in the future could again represent a huge risk in terms of occurrence of heat waves in India in a very significant way.”

India is one of many recent victims of extreme events exacerbated by human-induced climate change.

In April, South Africa experienced its deadliest storm on record. Torrential rains over two days in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces caused intense flooding and landslides, killing more than 400 people. Researchers from the World Wide Attribution Project, which analyzes how human-induced climate change affects the likelihood of extreme weather events, found that global warming made the flood twice as likely and intensified it by 4-8%.

Such extreme events are expected to increase as our planet continues to warm. A report released Wednesday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says four key indicators of climate change set records in 2021: greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, heat and cold. acidification of the oceans.

The WMO also noted that the past seven years have been the hottest on record, while saying it is “very likely” that Earth will set a new global temperature record at least once in the next five years. . These records are “another clear sign that human activities are causing planetary-scale changes on land, in the ocean and in the atmosphere,” the report said.

Patel reported from Washington and Masih from New Delhi.

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