A new study revealed that over 90 percent of the country is in the “danger zone” of being hit by heatwaves, which are also impeding India’s efforts towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Over 90 percent of India’s total area is in the “extremely cautious” or “danger zone” of being hit by heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change, said a new study. According to the study conducted by Ramit Debnath and colleagues at the University of Cambridge, Delhi is particularly vulnerable to severe heatwave impacts.
The heatwaves are also impeding India’s efforts towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) more significantly than previously thought, said the report, adding that current assessment metrics may not fully capture the impact of heatwaves on the country.
As per the report, extreme heat could ultimately lead to a 15 percent decline in “outdoor working capacity”, reduce the quality of life of up to 480 million people and cost 2.8 percent of GDP by 2050.
Further, heatwaves have caused more than 24,000 deaths since 1992 and have driven up air pollution and accelerated glacial melt in northern India. Recently, fourteen people died in Maharashtra due to sunstroke during an award ceremony, making it one of the highest death tolls from a single heatwave-related event in the country’s history.
India is now “facing a collision of multiple, cumulative climate hazards” and extreme weather was observed almost every day last year from January to October, said the report.
The researchers conducted an analytical evaluation of the country’s heat index with its climate vulnerability index.
The heat index (HI) is a measure of how hot it feels to the human body, taking into account both temperature and humidity. The climate vulnerability index (CVI) is a composite index that uses various indicators to account for socioeconomic, livelihood, and biophysical factors to study the impact of heatwaves.
According to the study, critical variables in Delhi that will aggravate heat-related vulnerabilities include the concentration of slum population and overcrowding in high HI areas, lack of access to basic amenities like electricity, water and sanitation, non-availability of immediate healthcare and health insurance, poor condition of housing and dirty cooking fuel (biomass, kerosene and coal).
The authors concluded that the use of CVI may underestimate the actual burden of climate change concerning heat, and suggested that India should consider reassessing its climate vulnerabilities to meet the SDGs.
Debnath told Reuters that it was “very important to figure out how we measure vulnerabilities to frequent extreme events”, with the Indian government’s own “climate vulnerability index” believed to underestimate the impact that longer, earlier and more frequent heatwaves will have on development.
“The adaptation measures that are being put on paper are quite substantial … and I think they have a very strong solid plan, but it depends on how they are implemented,” he added.
The researchers warned that if India fails to address the impact of heatwaves immediately, it could slow progress towards achieving sustainable development goals.
The threshold for a heatwave is met when the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40 degrees Celsius in the plains, at least 37 degrees Celsius in coastal areas, and at least 30 degrees Celsius in hilly regions, and the departure from normal is at least 4.5 degrees Celsius.
In 2023, India experienced its hottest February since record-keeping began in 1901.