India could soon experience heat waves that break human survivability limit: World Bank report

The World Bank report stated that the country is experiencing higher temperatures that arrive earlier and stay far longer.


Published Dec 07, 2022 | 4:39 PMUpdatedDec 07, 2022 | 4:39 PM

March 2022 witnessed extraordinary spikes in temperature. Representative image. (Creative Commons)

Severe heat waves, responsible for thousands of deaths across India over the last few decades, are increasing with alarming frequency, and soon, the country could become one of the first places in the world to experience heat waves that break the human survivability limit, stated a new report.

The World Bank report titled “Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector” said that the country is experiencing higher temperatures that arrive earlier and stay far longer.

“In April 2022, India was plunged into the grip of a punishing early spring heat wave that brought the country to a standstill, with temperatures in the capital, New Delhi, topping 46 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit). The month of March, which witnessed extraordinary spikes in temperatures, was the hottest ever recorded,” it said.

The report will be released during the two-day India Climate and Development Partners’ Meet being organised by World Bank, in partnership with the Kerala government in Thiruvananthapuram.

Predictions coming true

Predicting that the heat wave situation in India could break the human survivability limit, it said that the recent heat wave supports what many climate scientists have long cautioned us about with reference to rising temperatures across South Asia.

“In August 2021, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the Indian subcontinent would suffer more frequent and intense heat waves over the coming decade,” the report stated.

“The G20 Climate Risk Atlas also warned in 2021 that heat waves across India were likely to last 25 times longer by 2036-65 if carbon emissions remain high, as in the IPCC’s worst-case emission scenario,” the report said. It also warned that rising heat across India can jeopardise economic productivity.

Heat-driven lost labour

“Up to 75 percent of India’s workforce, or 380 million people, depend on heat-exposed labour, at times working in potentially life-threatening temperatures…By 2030, India may account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress associated productivity decline,” the report said.

It further said that India showed the largest heat exposure impacts on heavy labour among South Asian countries, with more than 101 billion hours lost per year.

Analysis by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company shows that lost labour from rising heat and humidity could put up to 4.5 percent of India’s GDP — approximately $150-250 billion — at risk by the end of this decade.

Cold chain networks going hot?

It said that India’s long-term food security and public health security will depend on a reliable cold chain network. Transporting food and pharmaceutical goods across India requires a system of cold chain refrigeration that works every step of the way.

“A single temperature lapse in the journey can break the cold chain, spoiling fresh produce and weakening the potency of vaccines. With only four percent of fresh produce in India covered by cold chain facilities, annual estimated food losses total $13 billion,” it said.

It also noted that India, the third largest producer of pharmaceuticals in the world pre-Covid-19, lost approximately 20 percent of temperature-sensitive medical products and 25 percent of vaccines due to broken cold chains, leading to losses of $313 million a year.

Read More: Kerala to set up weather stations in schools to teach climate change

Staying cool is too expensive!

“As temperatures rise across India, so will the demand for cooling. However, in a country where two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day and where the average cost of an air conditioning unit can vary between $260 and $500, air cooling systems are a luxury available only to a few,” the report said.

According to analysis presented in the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP), only 8 percent of Indian households own air conditioning units.

“Indoor and electric fans can help to maintain thermal comfort, but these too are expensive to buy and are inefficient. As a result, many poor and marginalised communities across India are more vulnerable to extreme heat, living in inadequately ventilated, hot and crowded homes without proper access to cooling,” the report warned.

Staying cool during extreme heat is about more than just comfort, it can constitute the precarious line between life and death, it added.

(Disclaimer: Only the headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed)