I’ll just come out and say it. Suppose the people in India and Pakistan were white and Christian instead of varying shades of brown and Muslim or Hindu. In that case, the story of a ghastly heatwave and God only knows how many deaths it has caused would dominate news cycles for a very long time. Maybe; it’s just the topic of climate change that is such a buzzkill. Perhaps it is a bit of both, but wow. This is serious news that needs everyone's attention because this is a glimpse into the summer of 2022, 2023, and beyond.
Here is what we know so far. An early heatwave has enveloped South Asia since March. Temperatures have only risen higher in April, and today temperatures are 113 to 122 F in many areas of the Indian sub-continent. The body can’t cool off at night so it weakens and is vulnerable to organ shutdown. The worst part is that temperatures will only increase in the next ten days, perhaps longer if the Monsoon rains continue to be unseasonably late.
India's wheat crop is scorched in yet another blow to fight world hunger. India was expecting a bountiful harvest this year, but the heat will mean very little export will be available to fill in some of the gaps from the Ukraine and Russia wars.
In the Himalayas of Pakistan, plans for likely glacial flooding events have been activated by local governments as fears of meltwater lakes bursting and destroying everything in their path roaring down to the valley's floor.
Authorities have warned that the heatwave is likely to enhance snow and ice melt over the glaciated areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and Gilgit-Baltistan Administrative Territory; glacial lake outburst floods and flash floods are possible in vulnerable areas, especially at Shishper Lake.
From the NY Times:
NEW DELHI — Across a wide swath of the Indian subcontinent, scorching temperatures have damaged harvests. People are suffering from heat stroke. And the lights are flickering in some cities amid surging demand for air-conditioning.
Now, the heat wave that has been pummeling India and Pakistan for weeks is expected to intensify over the weekend. In some hard-hit areas, it may be weeks before the region's annual monsoon sweeps in to provide relief.
Heat-related watches were in effect on Thursday afternoon for all but a few of India’s 28 states, encompassing hundreds of millions of people and most of the country’s major cities. An alert — one notch up in severity — was in effect for the northwestern state of Rajasthan on Thursday, and would come into effect for other central and western states starting Saturday.
The subcontinent’s scorching weather is a reminder of what lies in store for other countries in an era of climate change. Climate scientists say that heat waves around the world are growing more frequent, more dangerous and lasting longer. They are certain that global warming has made heat waves worse because the baseline temperatures from which they begin are higher than they were decades ago.
In New Delhi, fires have broken out in landfills and tire dumps. Modi warned the country of the threat of forest fires.
From The Guardian:
“Temperatures are rising rapidly in the country, and rising much earlier than usual,” India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said on Wednesday, adding that India has seen “increasing incidents of fires in various places – in forests, important buildings and in hospitals – in the past few days”.
In New Delhi, a 60-metre-high (200ft) rubbish mountain has been ablaze since Tuesday, while firefighting teams battle it with lorry-loads of sand and mud.
The inferno, belching toxic black smoke that engulfed nearby districts, was the fourth such incident at a landfill site in the megacity of 20 million people in less than a month. Pradeep Khandelwal, the former head of Delhi’s waste management, said they were likely sparked by warmer temperatures speeding up the decomposition of organic waste.
“The dry and hot weather produces excess methane gas at the dumping sites that trigger such fires,” Khandelwal told AFP.
The wet bulb temperature is essentially a metaphor for human sweat. Sweat is the body's cooling mechanism, providing humans with relief when the body heats up.
But for sweat to actually cool a person's skin, it relies on the process of evaporation to move heat away from the body.
At theoretical wet-bulb temperatures, evaporation and cooling can no longer take place because the atmosphere is fully saturated with water. And when the wet-bulb temperature reaches 35 C, it crosses a threshold at which humans can no longer lose internal body heat and cool themselves.
There is very little to no reporting on deaths so far. It wouldn’t make a difference anyway, as people don’t die from climate change in death certificates or notices. They die from diarrhea from drinking contaminated water or eating food that goes bad due to power outages and lack of refrigeration, heatstroke, dehydration, and other horrors.