Global warming will make deadly heatwaves an annual threat in India and Pakistan

New normal.
New normal.
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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In 2015, India and Pakistan experienced heatwave conditions that ended up killing over 3,600 people in just three months. Now, research suggests this could become the new normal.

If average world temperatures increase by between 1.5ºC and 2°C, potentially deadly heatwaves are likely to substantially increase (pdf) in frequency, and those similar to the one in 2015 could become an annual occurrence in India and Pakistan, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body set up in 1988. At warming of over 2°C, coastal cities such as Karachi and Kolkata are especially at risk.

The landmark report, released in Incheon, South Korea, today (Oct. 08), was written by a team of 91 authors from 40 countries following the 2015 Paris climate agreement, in which policymakers from around the world, including India and Pakistan, agreed to work towards limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C.

The IPCC report reveals the widespread effects of global warming of 1.5°C and above, which includes increased coastal flooding and the salinisation of river beds, besides increased heatwaves. And the south Asian region, where millions of vulnerable people live and work outdoors, is especially at risk for all of this, it says.

Previous research has already shown that parts of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India could soon become uninhabitable because of heatwaves, which are now claiming more lives in India than ever before. In response, state governments have been working on action plans and raising awareness about best practices for heatwaves. India’s National Disaster Management Authority has even set a zero-mortality goal for heatwaves, which it says is seeing some progress.

Between 1992 and 2016, heatwaves caused nearly 26,000 deaths (pdf) in India alone, but 2016 and 2017 were among the hottest recorded years in the country’s history. And earlier this year, temperatures once again soared well above 40°C in states such as Rajasthan in the west and Andhra Pradesh in the south, threatening the lives of millions.