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A climate scientist explains the shocking effects of poor air quality on India and Pakistan’s horrendous heatwaves.

A climate scientist explains the shocking effects of poor air quality on India and Pakistan’s horrendous heatwaves.

A man drinks water near powerlines

The record-shattering heatwave that engulfed most of India and Pakistan through March and April brought temperatures exceeding 45℃ in many areas, leading to critical electricity and water shortages.

Indeed, the maximum temperatures forecast for Delhi, India, will continue to reach over 40℃ for several days. Due to the high number of COVID cases, both countries have been strained by extreme heat.

Temperatures have been consistently high. In the last few days, the market has slowed to a near-average levelUnfortunately, extreme heat will only increase as the planet warms.

This is especially true in India and Pakistan where steps to improve airquality are an added factor. Increasing temperatures during heatwaves. Let’s take a closer look at why this heatwave is exceptional, and what the future may hold for the region.

Record breaking heatwave

India’s climate is different from many other regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The highest temperatures occur in May, which is a departure from the norm for most areas north of equator.

This is because the monsoon brings a lot of moisture and rain to India’s subcontinent starting in June and July. It also has a significant cooling impact.

Recent years have seen severe heatwaves, but these usually occur in May. Notably, May 2016 was the hottest month. temperatures exceeded 50℃ in RajasthanNorthwestern India.

The 2022 heatwave was exceptional in its persistence, timing, and overall impact.

A man drinks water near powerlines

As the demand for electricity rises to new heights, millions are suffering from acute power shortages.
AP Photo/Manish Sharma

Both Pakistan and India experienced theirs Warmest March in at least 60 years with an average maximum temperature of 33.1℃ for India.

The heat continued into April. The temperature reached a record high at the end of April. 49℃ in Jacobabad, Pakistan.

Parts of India, Pakistan and other parts of the world also experienced their hottest April in recent records. Central and northwest India.

No place to hide from heat

This extended heatwave caused massive heatwaves that affected hundreds of million of people in one region of the world that is most densely populated.

Heatwaves can cause hospital admissions and death increases in any country. The heatwave culminating in Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfire in 2009, for example, claimed 374 Lives.

Continuing high levels of COVID cases adds stress. India has seen around 50,000 cases during April. This means that healthcare systems are unable to deal with extreme weather events in many countries.

The river Yamuna’s dried bed, where water levels have decreased dramatically after the intense heatwave in New Delhi.
AP Photo/Manish Sharma

Most people in wealthy areas of the world can escape to their homes during heatwaves. Many have air conditioning and can also retreat indoors. However, millions of people in less-developed countries like India and Pakistan work outside, with little relief from the heat.

According to reports, landfills are in declineIt is catching fire. Critical Wheat cropsThe heat is causing deaths. The electricity network is also less capable of coping with spikes in demand or frequent power outages lasting hours.

As air quality improves, we can expect more heat.

Worryingly, there has been a trend towards more frequent heatwaves. Accelerating across most regionsThe planet has warmed over the past 40-years. There’s no sign this acceleration will stop anytime soon under climate change.

The story is even more complicated in South Asia, where there are particular parts of India and especially in South Asia. The southThe most. Extremely high temperatures are now less commonIn the last few decades. Yet, the The overall number and severity of heatwave days has increased.




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There are two main reasons India is bucking the trends in “heatwave intensity” (how hot it gets during a heatwave) seen in other parts of the world: pollution and irrigation.

Due to the increase in population and the expansion of heavy industry, there are more particles in our atmosphere that block sunlight from reaching the surface.

Clean air laws were introduced in the middle of the 20th century in places like North America and Europe. This helped to reduce air pollutionAerosol levels in Asia are higher than in the rest of the world, however.

India has seen an increase in irrigation use for agriculture. Evaporation has also been on the rise. Temperature cooling.

The aerosols that are produced by pollution block sunlight and keep temperatures cool.
EPA/JAGADEESH NV

India, Pakistan, and other Southern and Eastern Asian nations are beginning to take steps to improve the air quality. Progress is slow. The unintended consequence of reducing pollution is likely to accelerate local warming, as some of the regional greenhouse gas-induced warming has been masked by pollution.

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The sun shines over an office building with trees at its base.

Reducing air pollution will result in lower levels of pollution. Many health benefitsIt will likely also lead to a greater heatwave intensity over the Indian subcontinent as less sunlight is reflected by the aerosols.




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If Earth warms by 2℃ this century, which is The world will warm by approximately how much if all government promises are keptThen, we can expect significant increases in the extreme heat temperatures over South Asia.

This includes parts in Pakistan and northwest India. These areas will continue to endure. More than 30 days beyond the 40-day limit℃Compared to an early industrial climate.

Map of projected change in number of days exceeding 40℃ at 2℃ of global warming relative to late 19th century climate.
IPCC AR6 Interactive Atlas, CC BY ND

Adapting to unavoidable disasters

The tremendous threats heatwaves pose should not be ignored, and it’s crucial governments take measures to help countries adapt to the inevitable severe heat, to greatly reduce the worst impacts.

The 2003 heatwave in Europe led to tens of thousands of deaths. But another heatwave that struck Europe in 2006 resulted almost 70% fewer deaths in FranceMore than you expected.




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One reason is that the deaths involving thousands of vulnerable people took place only three years before. France had taken steps to reduce heat vulnerability, including fitting-for-purpose warning systems for heatwaves and education to the public about keeping cool during heatwaves.

Both India and Pakistan are trying to Reduce heatwave impactsPlans that emphasize early warning of heatwaves as well as improved communication to the public about ways to get heat relief.

It is hoped that this will reduce the number of deaths caused by the heatwave.

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