Heatwaves: The invisible enemy to Indian economy

Chennai: Increasing exposure to heatwaves not only cause deaths in India, but also affects the economy severely, a report has said.

According to the recent Lancet Countdown on health and climate change which is produced by 27 academic institutions and inter-governmental organisations around the world, “Soaring temperatures have a significant economic cost, especially for the agricultural sector in India.”

The sector accounts for 18 per cent of India’s GDP and employs nearly half its population. Heatwaves caused a loss of nearly 75,000 million hours of labour in 2017, compared to 43,000 million hours in 2000, says the report.

It said there were 40 million more ‘heatwave exposure events’ in India in 2016, compared to 2012.

In 2016, India experienced its hottest year in over a century, with hundreds dying from sunstroke. The year 2017 was also one of the warmest in recent recorded history.

The report found that there has been a marked increase in both the number of vulnerable Indians over the age of 65 exposed to heatwaves and the duration of heatwaves in the past two decades, indicating the growing threat to public health.

“For a developing economy like India, this represents a substantial impact on individual, household and national budgets, necessitating urgent national and regional adaptation plans,” the report added.

The briefing, prepared with inputs from the Public Health Foundation of India and the Centre for Environmental Health, suggests the Indian government needs to identify ‘heat hot-spots’ and deploy effective and timely heat action plans in these areas.

The country has increasingly adopted the latter, and authorities say heat action plans are starting to make a difference. But the policy briefing also emphasises the need for better health standards, labour laws, and regulations to protect workers from intensifying heat.

It is not the first time India has been warned about heatwaves. Previous research has shown that rising global temperatures could see events like the 2015 heatwave that killed thousands in India and Pakistan, occur every year.

Upon continued exposure to such events, parts of the subcontinent could soon even become unlivable, the report said.

NT Bureau