Indian heatwave death toll rises to more than 1,400

Doctors’ leave cancelled as country struggles with temperatures higher than 45 degrees

An Indian man washes his face at a roadside tap during rising temperatures in New Delhi. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

An Indian man washes his face at a roadside tap during rising temperatures in New Delhi. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

 

Eating onions, lying in the shade and crowding into rivers, Indians are doing whatever they can to stay cool amid a brutal heatwave that has killed more than 1,400 in the past month.

Officials say deaths have been reported in at least four Indian states with most of the 1,412 deaths occurring in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where temperatures have soared to 47 degrees.

Officials are warning people to stay out of the sun, cover their heads and drink water. Authorities have cancelled doctors’ leave who are on alert for heat-related illness, while volunteers are distributing salted buttermilk or raw onions – both thought to be hydrating.

Meteorological officials say the heat will likely continue for several more days, warping roads, scorching crops and endangering construction workers, farmers and anyone else labouring outdoors.

May and June are India’s hottest months, with temperatures regularly pushing above 40 degrees. But meteorologists say the number of days when temperatures approach 45 degrees has increased in the past 15 years.

The death toll in the worst affected states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is more than double the toll from a shorter hot spell there last year, officials said, with most of those killed elderly or labourers suffering sunstroke or dehydration.

Not an option

Authorities have advised people not to head outside in the middle of the day to avoid the worst of the heat. However, for many Indians, staying indoors is not an option.

“I get headaches, fever sometimes. But [if I stay indoors] how will I make money?” scrap collector Akhlaq (28) said in the capital Delhi, where temperatures touched 45 degrees on Tuesday.

The heatwave entered its sixth day in parts of the south on Wednesday. That’s double the time they generally last, according to YK Reddy, a government meteorologist in Hyderabad in one of the worst affected regions.

Blamed on dry continental air blowing in from Iran and Afghanistan, the heatwave is forecast to subside later this week before monsoon rains bring relief to parched areas.

Agencies