‘India Is on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis’: 100+ Die Amid Scorching Heatwave - Common Dreams

As parts of India endure a searing heatwave, hundreds of people have been hospitalized and more than 100 have died in two of the country’s most populous states over the past several days.

From last Thursday through Sunday, at least 68 people died in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), and more than 40 people died in the neighboring state of Bihar. During that period, maximum temperatures in the region soared to between 43°C and 45°C (109°F to 113°F), several degrees above average. The blistering heat has been exacerbated by high humidity.

Because all of the deaths in UP occurred in the Ballia district, questions have been raised about what caused so many people in the area to perish while those sweltering under similar conditions in surrounding jurisdictions escaped relatively unscathed.

According to The New York Times, doctors in Ballia “are convinced there’s a link between the punishing temperatures and the deaths of their patients, but officials are investigating what role the dangerous combination of heat and humidity played in the rise in mortality.”

After Dr. Diwakar Singh, the former chief medical superintendent in Ballia, told reporters on Friday night that dozens of people had succumbed to heat stroke at the district’s main hospital, “he was reprimanded by the state government for prematurely drawing that conclusion and removed from his position,” the Times reported. “The government has since sent a scientific team from the state capital, Lucknow, to investigate the causes.”

Ballia District Magistrate Ravindra Kumar has tried to deny the role played by extreme heat, telling Reuters: “A few of the deaths are related to old age, while some have different reasons. There is no concrete evidence of heatwave behind these deaths.”

Citing medical officials, AP reported that most of the hundreds of patients admitted to Ballia’s main hospital for “various ailments aggravated by heat” were over the age of 60 and “exhibiting symptoms of high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, and heart-related issues.”

Meanwhile, a member of the UP government’s team of experts said that “these do not appear to be heatwave-related deaths because nearby districts facing similar conditions are not throwing up similar death figures. The initial symptoms were of chest pain mostly, which is not the first symptom for someone affected by a heatwave.” According to The Guardian, that official “said the deaths could have been caused by contaminated water.”

Still, the availability of clean water is inseparable from the issue of extreme heat, which is increasing in frequency, duration, and intensity due to the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

During heatwaves, India “usually suffers severe water shortages, with tens of millions of its 1.4 billion people lacking running water,” AP noted.

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Common Dreams

Locations: India Uttar Pradesh, India Bihar, India Ballia, India 

Organizations: New York Times Associated Press The Guardian 

People: Diwakar Singh Ravindra Kumar 

Tags: Weather Extreme Heat Climate Change Public Health Mass Death 

Type: Headlines