India's 'heat trap' cities make summers worse, government official says

India's 'heat trap' cities make summers worse, government official says

A woman walks under an umbrella amid scorching heat in Guwahati, Assam on May 25, 2024.

A woman walks under an umbrella amid scorching heat in Guwahati, Assam on May 25, 2024. | Photo credit: AP

Indian cities have become “heat traps” due to their unbalanced development swallowing up water bodies and rising greenhouse emissions, a senior government official said on June 17, even as scorching heat killed dozens of people in parts of the country.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted above normal temperatures in the northwestern and central parts of the country, including Delhi, in June, making it one of the longest summer spells.

The highest daily temperature in the capital has remained above 40 degrees Celsius since May 12 and is forecast to drop below this level on June 26. The IMD's heatwave criteria start at 40 degrees in the plains and 30 degrees for the hills, where it is generally cooler due to the altitude.

Delhi, which is also battling water shortage, recorded a temperature of around 44 degrees on Monday afternoon, but the IMD said it felt like 49.2 degrees.

“Climate change plays a significant role,” said Krishna S. Vats, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority. Reuters,

Unbalanced urban development, which has led to the depletion of wetlands and water bodies, is another factor, Mr. Vatsa said.

“Greenhouse gas emissions have gone up. Permeable spaces have decreased significantly. Cities have virtually become heat traps.”

He said that as a result, nights have become as uncomfortable as days.

According to a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study published last month, during the summers of 2001 to 2010, the land surface temperature in cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai fell by up to 13.2 degrees Celsius at night from the daytime maximum temperature.

Between 2014 and 2023 they will cool by only 11.5 degrees Celsius.

“Hot nights are just as dangerous as afternoon highs,” the center reports. “If temperatures remain high overnight, people have little chance to recover from the day's heat.”

Vatsa said most Indian states are implementing action plans to cope with the heat, including the provision of drinking water and better medical facilities, as well as rescheduling outdoor work and school holidays.

But Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of CSE, said there was no clear mandate to implement long-term strategies.

Delhi's long-term plan includes increasing insulation in buildings, developing shelters for the urban poor and slum dwellers, and investing in cooling water bodies.

Vishwas Chitale of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi-based think tank, said such schemes need financial support.

“Cities are struggling with their own finances and they don't have the extra budget to implement actions for the heat,” he said.

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