India reports over 40,000 suspected heatstroke cases over summer

A man sleeping in the river Ganges, on a hot summer day in Varanasi, on June 18. - Photo: AFP

NEW DELHI/GUWAHATI: India recorded more than 40,000 suspected heatstroke cases this summer as a prolonged heatwave killed more than 100 people across the country, while parts of its north-east grappled with floods from heavy rain, authorities said.

Billions across Asia are grappling with extreme heat in a trend scientists say has been worsened by human-driven climate change.

Temperatures in north India have soared to almost 50 degrees Celsius, in one of the longest heatwave spells recorded.

Birds fell from the skies due to extreme heat and hospitals reported an inflow of heat-affected patients as both day- and night-time temperatures peaked in recent weeks since the start of summer in March.

The Health Ministry ordered federal and state institutions to ensure “immediate attention” to patients, while hospitals in capital Delhi, which is also facing a water shortage, were directed to make more beds available.

A Health Ministry official said there were more than 40,000 suspected heatstroke cases and at least 110 confirmed deaths between March 1 and June 18, when north-west and eastern India recorded twice the usual number of heatwave days.

The weather office has forecast above normal temperatures for June too, as the authorities say Indian cities have become “heat traps” due to unbalanced growth.

“During the ongoing heatwave, most bird rescue calls that we receive are due to birds falling from the skies,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and chief executive of non-profit Wildlife SOS.

“In the past two weeks, Wildlife SOS has been receiving more than 35-40 rescue calls daily, in and around Delhi National Capital Region. Most of the calls include bird rescue requests.”

Separately, floods and landslides triggered by incessant rain in the north-eastern state of Assam killed at least six people on the night of June 18, officials said.

“A landslide buried a woman and her three daughters alive,” a state disaster management official, Siju Das, said by telephone.

“Their house was on a slope, and they died on the spot around midnight,” he said, adding that the bodies were retrieved after a three-hour search operation by rescuers.

“A three-year-old was killed too.”

In Assam, more than 160,000 people were affected, with waters surpassing the danger level in the Kopili, one of the largest tributaries of the Brahmaputra, which ranks among India’s biggest rivers.

More than 30 people in the state have died since the end of May in floods and landslides brought by heavy rain, officials said. - Reuters

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