Beat the heat: On the IMD warning of more heatwaves  

Large gatherings, political or not, must be avoided in summer 

April 08, 2024 12:15 am | Updated 12:26 pm IST

With the advent of summer, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned that more heatwaves are likely than last year. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are expected to be particularly vulnerable. Heatwave days are defined as when day temperatures in a place are at least 4.5° C above normal or greater than 45° C on two consecutive days. For several years on the trot now, the IMD has been forecasting hotter summers. The causes are multi-fold. India is battling an El Niño wave, that, in most years, dries up rainfall and contributes to elevated temperatures. Though the El Niño and its converse, La Niña, are cyclical, there is also the larger phenomenon of warming temperatures (El Niño) causing accelerated melting in the Arctic, a drying up of moisture-laden tropical wind and, consequently, fewer clouds, and, thus, dry, baking ground temperatures.

This year, the weather agency’s warnings are more portentous as millions are expected to queue up outside polling stations in India over several afternoons in April and May. Last April, at a mid-day, open-air public, political function in Navi Mumbai, 12 people died due to dehydration and 600 had to be hospitalised. Some of the speakers in fact congratulated the crowd for ‘braving’ the heat before the disaster unfolded. This highlights the degree of disregard that the governmental machinery accords to the public-health impacts of heatwaves. This election year, for instance, the Election Commission of India had already issued an advisory to its State electoral officers — ahead of the IMD’s public heat warnings — to prepare for the polls amid blistering heat. The trouble is that these advisories are too generic. There is a perfunctory note to provide for oral rehydration supplements and mothers to avoid bringing children with them to the polling booths. There is no requirement that polling stations prioritise cooling beyond the confines of the rooms where the officers are seated. There has been, for many years, a suggestion, even by prominent politicians, for elections to be held in the relatively more clement months of February-March or October-November but it is one that loses traction almost immediately after the polls. India’s size and logistical challenges have seen the electoral process innovate and adopt measures such as multi-phase polling and even the use of electronic ballots. With temperature records collapsing every year and the links between heatwaves, climate and health becoming even more explicit, it is time that the electoral process mulls over creative ways to account for the crisis.

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