Surface land temperatures in some parts of country crossed more than 60C amid a historic heatwave in India, threatening millions of lives and the nationy’s electricity demand and crop harvests.

Unprecedented and extreme high temperatures in India and neighbouring Pakistan have put more than a billion lives at risk as the effects of the climate crisis continue to impact across the subcontinent.

The historic heatwave, which started in March, resulted in the hottest March in India since records began more than a century ago. In the capital of New Delhi, residents suffered through seven consecutive days of over 40 degrees Celsius.

But temperatures in April showed no signs of relenting, where average maximum temperatures for northwest and central India climbed to its highest in 122 years, reaching 35.9 and 37.78C (96.62 and 100F)  respectively, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). In some cities, temperatures crossed 43C (109.4F). 

Over some parts of northwest India, surface land temperatures even exceeded 60C, according to imagery captured by satellites on May 1. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned India being one the countries expected to be worst hit by the impacts of the climate crisis.

“This heatwave is definitely unprecedented,“ said Dr. Chandni Singh, IPCC Lead Author and Senior Researcher at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. “We have seen a change in its intensity, its arrival time, and duration. This is what climate experts predicted and it will have cascading impacts on health.”

The heatwave has sparked a number of worrying issues in India. The extreme heat caused a massive fire in an equally massive landfill in the city of Bhalswa, where the blaze reached higher than a 17-storey building and covered an area bigger than 50 football fields.

The risk of fire there is particularly high as 2,300 tonnes of the city’s waste are dumped in landfills every day. As organic waste decomposes, it creates a build-up of highly combustible methane gas, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Three other landfills around the Indian capital have also caught fire in recent weeks.

Other major issues at hand include crop damage – where India’s wheat crop is usually harvested in the month of April, potentially exacerbating global wheat shortages and food insecurity following the Russian invasion of Ukraine – as well as increasing pressure on domestic energy demand. 

India’s electricity demand has soared to a record high in April from the surge in the use of air conditioning. Total power demand rose 13.2% to 135.4 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), with electricity demand in the north growing between 16- 75%, according to Reuters’ analysis of government data

This has led to a coal shortage in India – also exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – and triggered the country’s worst power crisis in more than six years. Millions are left without power for up to nine hours a day, and critical services such as hospitals are threatened by blackouts. 

EO’s Position: The world has already warmed around 1.1C since pre-industrial times, and we are still on track to exceed 1.5C of warming within the next two decades. Unless the world at large drastically stops adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, record high heatwaves and other extreme weather conditions will become even more frequent, threatening millions more lives around the world.

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