This could be the worst year for heat deaths - and that’s an under-estimate

A man tries to cools himself from a water pipe, to beat the scorching afternoon heat, on a hot summer day at a site near Yamuna-Okhla Barriage in New Delhi.Photo: Shanker Chakravarty  

This could be the most lethal year for heatstroke in India’s history. With 1,345 deaths from heatstroke reported in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana alone so far this year, the death toll in those two states alone has already surpassed that of India last year.

Every year, somewhere in the region of 1,000 people die of heatstroke, largely during the month of May, according to National Crime Records Bureau data. Since 1990, nearly 20,000 people have died of heatstroke across the country, 1995 being the previous worst year with 1677 deaths.

Most years, the heat kills more people in India than the cold. Of all natural event-related accidental deaths, only lightning kills more people than the heat in India.

By official statistics, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (referred to as Andhra Pradesh only in statistics prior to 2014) have always been the epicentre of the May-June spike in temperatures in India.

As with most deaths from natural events in India, deaths from heatstroke is a gendered phenomenon - far more men, who are more likely to be working outdoors, die of heat than women.

Similarly, those in the age-group of 35-49 years are most vulnerable in India.

The major caveat to all of this is that these are police statistics. Official data only counts deaths in which heatstroke is established to be the cause in police records, usually through a post-mortem. This means that official data is likely to be vastly underestimated, especially among the poor who are less likely to die in hospitals. A better way to arrive at a realistic number is to study the “excess mortality” in a given area during a heat wave, after accounting for the usual mortality patterns for that city or village for that time of year. Using this method, >a study found, for instance, that 1,300 people likely died of the heat in the 2010 Ahmedabad heat wave.

The official NCRB number for Ahmedabad for 2010? Six.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 2:48:30 AM |

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