Indians hospitalized due to record heat

Family members shift a patient suffering from heat stroke inside an emergency room at a government hospital during a severe heatwave in Varanasi on May 30, 2024.

(Photo: Niharika Kulkarni/AFP via Getty Images)

As India Swelters, Experts Say Deadly Heat Is Growing Public Health Emergency

"How much evidence is enough for action?" asked one expert as temperatures soared to over 120°F in New Delhi and 16 people died in Bihar.

As a record heatwave scorches large swaths of India, killing 16 people in Bihar state, climate scientists warned Thursday that extreme heat fueled by the worsening climate emergency poses a fast-growing threat to public health and human survivability.

The Indian Meteorological Department said temperatures soared to over 120°F in recent days in New Delhi. The agency said it is investigating an all-time high reading of 127.2°F in the capital on Wednesday that may be attributable to a sensor error. If the reading is accurate, it would mark the highest temperature ever recorded in India.

In Bihar state, 16 deaths were reported in just two hours on Thursday, with at least 35 others hospitalized for heat-related ailments, according toNDTV.

Patients suffering heat-related illnesses sought emergency care at facilities in New Delhi including Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, where staff in a specialized unit treated heat stroke victims with ice immersion baths. Outdoor laborers have been particularly affected by the heat.

"Treatment depends upon very quick, very rapid intervention and very rapid cooling," Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital director Ajay Shukla toldAgence France-Presse on Thursday, adding that the mortality rate in the most severe cases is approximately 60-80%.

Last June, more than 100 people died in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as temperatures soared to over 110°F. A study by the climate research group World Weather Attribution concluded that an earlier April 2023 heatwave that seared India and other South Asian countries was made 30 times more likely due to human-caused climate change.

Aarti Khosla, director of the New Delhi-based research institute Climate Trends, told AFP on Thursday: "Cities are more vulnerable to the compounding effects of urbanization and climate change. Expect a greater number of hotter days, prolonged dry spells, and fewer rainy days as weather patterns continue to change due to increased human emissions."

Khosla asserted that extreme heat is "the single largest threat to India's well-being today" and "proof that the issue is now about survivability."

Extreme heat goes hand-in-hand with water shortages in India. Authorities in New Delhi imposed water restrictions as supplies run perilously low.

NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus said on social media Wednesday that "dying coral reefs and hot tub oceans" and "deadly heat in India and Mexico" are "still just the beginning" of the worsening planetary emergency.

"We are all still riding precariously up a heating trend that will eventually kill and displace billions," he added, "brought to you by fossil fuel assholes and the fools they've bribed."

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