Extreme heat in India leads to serious problems for poor people

Published on
May 26, 2016

Extreme heat conditions in India are making the headlines for the second year in a row. Amid a nationwide heatwave the city of Phalodi in northern India has shattered the national heat record, registering a searing 51°C. Temperatures in northern India regularly hit the high 40s in May and June – the hottest months of the year – but topping 50°C is unusual. Alterra is currently studying this extreme heat and ways to cope with it.

“We conduct this study in three major cities in South Asia: Delhi in India, Faisalabad in Pakistan and Dhaka in Bangladesh,” Alterra researcher Tanya Singh says. “As part of the measurement campaign under the HI-AWARE project we have three urban weather stations installed. Over the past few days we have been recording temperatures of over 43°C in Delhi and 46°C in Faisalabad. We also installed small temperature sensors in more than 150 houses in low-income neighbourhoods, where indoor temperatures can be even higher than at outdoor locations, especially during the night.”

Continuous exposure to high temperatures can lead to serious health issues and lowers productivity as the human body cannot recuperate, but precise thresholds and related health impacts are still unknown and likely location specific. Tanya Singh: “We have three mobile weather stations mounted on cars, one in each of the cities to look at the impact of e.g. canals, vegetation and building density on thermal comfort. Over the course of this summer we hope to get a better understanding of the exposure of poor people to extreme and prolonged heat, and affordable ways to cope with it.” Furthermore, she states: “We also help to create a healthy living environment in India's rapidly expanding cities, looking at ways to improve waste water treatment and to reduce heat stress. Each year this affects millions of hectares of land, leading to lower yields in rice, wheat and other crops. Climate change is expected to increase the pressure on available land and water resources. Together with colleagues at various Indian institutes, we are trying to find tailor-made solutions to these problems.”

Alterra does not limit its research to only urban areas. Drought, waterlogging and salinity are typical problems the agricultural sector in India is facing. Each year it affects millions of hectares of land, leading to decreased yields in rice, wheat and other crops. Climate change is expected to increase the pressure on available land and water resources. Alterra contributes to a climate smart agriculture and a transition to a green economy.