A majority of eight people on Earth are in the grip of a relentless dangerous heat wave that’s
stretching to its third week.
The triple-digit temperatures continue to bake large swaths of India and Pakistan a region that is
with 1.5 billion inhabitants. Extreme heat also burned Bangladesh as well as Sri Lanka in recent
weeks. For India, this April was the hottest in more than 122 years, and it was the second
hottest month ever recorded. For Pakistan, this was also the most scorching April in the last 61
years. Jacobabad, Pakistan, already one of the hottest cities on earth was hit with temperatures
that soared to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures at night remain at 90 degrees, granting
little relief for those who are overheated. Further heat is expected to be expected in the coming
The scorching heat has killed 25, in India and at least 65 in Pakistan although the real amount
of casualties could be to be much greater. It is also reported that birds are suffering the
The heatwave has caused devastating knock-on impacts. The increased demand for electricity
and the stress on the electricity grid has caused power interruptions for two-thirds of Indian
households. Power outages in Pakistan last as long as 12 hours and have cut off power at times when people require cooling the most. Many households are without water. The scorching
weather has raised the levels of dust and ozone and caused an increase in air quality in the
major cities throughout the region. The scorching heat melting glaciers of the mountains faster
than usual and has caused flash floods across Pakistan. In the meantime, the ongoing political
turmoil and the economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic are slowing the response in
the face of this heatwave.
The heatwave in South Asia is set to spread into other nations. The extreme temperatures are
making wheat production more difficult and could cause prices for food to even higher levels
around the globe.
India, as well as Pakistan, are no strangers to extreme temperatures, however, these days’
heatwaves stand out due to the timing of their peak in the summer and rapid beginning, their
size, and the extent. Researchers are now examining the extent to which human-caused climate
changes have contributed to the intense heat in South Asia. Scientists have been warning for
years that more frequent and severe heat storms are a few of the most immediate
consequences of warming global average temperatures.
Climate change has already rendered some areas of the world inhospitable and within South
Asia, survival now relies on artificial cooling. The cooling process requires electricity. Air
conditioners and fans within India and Pakistan are powered by electricity generated from
burning fossil fuels. They release greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. Around 75
percent of Indian energy is derived from oil, coal, and natural gas, whereas Pakistan receives
about 60% of the energy it needs coming from these same sources. The current heatwave has
already led to a rise in demand for imports of coal. Due to its massive size, how South Asia
cools off will change the international energy market and alter how the climate around us.
It’s a challenging issue to settle, as you try to address a problem that is immediate while
avoiding the possibility of escalating another. It also highlights the urgency India and Pakistan
must shift to green energy sources. However, this requires the right political change that will
allow the shift without leaving people at risk of being a victim.
What was it that made India the heatwave in Pakistan such a surprise?
The phenomenon of heatwaves is a unique meteorological phenomenon that occurs when
temperatures exceed the 90th percentile of the average temperature of a region and remain
there for a long time generally about a week. Because they are a result of an area-specific
average the definition of an actual heatwave varies based on the region. The threshold for an
event that is considered to be a heatwave is greater in India as compared to Canada for
A heatwave is triggered when the high atmospheric pressure system is able to settle over a
region, which is often caused by storms that occur halfway across the globe. The high-pressure
system is compressed and warms the air while pushing out clouds. In the absence of clouds,
sunlight strikes the ground below directly, removing the moisture that could otherwise cool the air. As pressure rises as the sun heats the ground further, and during the course of the day it
builds up heat.
The heatwave in South Asia is unusual in that it’s occurring at a much earlier time than is
normal, just before the typical summer weather begins to set in, which caught people off from
being on. The heatwave also spread across a larger region, covering the majority of the area of
Pakistan in addition to India instead of being concentrated in only a few areas.
“Ordinarily, there is a slow creeping up [of temperatures] into the summers,” said Suruchi
Bhadwal director of climate change and earth science of the Energy and Resources Institute,
located in Delhi. “When the temperatures started rising and stayed consistently high, it wasn’t
However, in hindsight, scientists have concluded that lower precipitation was among the main
factors that contributed to this heatwave. “We had clear weather which caused a lack of rain in
March and April,” said Fahad Saeed who is a climate scientist with Climate Analytics, based in
Islamabad. “The rain was substantially lower than the normal, about 75 percent below normal.”
The weather of the past couple of days also resembles the events of 2021 where temperatures
rose between March and April. “It’s been two years where we are witnessing almost springless
seasons,” Saeed declared but he also said that it’s too early to determine whether this is a trend
One bright side to the heatwave lies in dry weather has helped keep the humidity at a minimum.
“I would say the low level of humidity was the reason it was not as fatal as the 2015 heatwave,”
Saeed stated. In the heatwave that occurred during the monsoon season, which produces
heavy rains, 700 people were killed from the heatwave in Pakistan and at the very least 2300
were killed in India.
The combination of high temperatures and high humidity can be a risky recipe. One of the most
important metrics used in this is wet bulb temperature which is the highest temperature for the
conditions in which water does not evaporate. It is a measure of how efficiently an individual can
cool off by sweating. The maximum temperature that an otherwise healthy person is able to
tolerate is 35 degrees Celsius or 95°F for about six hours. For those with medical conditions, the
temperature limit may be significantly smaller.
However, South Asia is poised to witness more of these deadly wet-bulb temperatures, too.
Certain regions have already attained the threshold of 35 degrees Celsius and the likelihood of
reaching the limit has increased by a factor of two in the last decade. “That’s one of my biggest
concerns: If a high level of mercury [in a thermometer] coincides with a high level of humidity, it
can be very fatal,” Saeed declared. As of now, the forecast for the seasonal period predicts that
the monsoon season will be more dry than usual however Tropical Cyclone Asani is currently
barreling towards the east of India’s coast.
Pressures from the economy put people in danger’s way
The people that reside in India in particular and Pakistan are particularly vulnerable to extreme
temperatures. An estimated 60% of the Indian workforce and around 40% of the population
within Pakistan are employed in agriculture, where the majority of work is done outdoors. Both
countries are in the harvest season for their wheat which means that millions of people face the
dilemma of working in dangerous weather conditions or losing their livelihoods.
However, urban areas are afflicted by extreme heat also. Cities that are bursting with life such
as Mumbai (20 million inhabitants), Delhi (19 million), Karachi (15 million) along with Lahore (11
million) get hotter faster than the rest of the city because concrete, asphalt, steel, and glass
“The more concretized, high-rise buildings that you have in cities also disrupt open-air
circulation, the lack of green spaces, and lack of places where people can sit and relax in shade
… [they] have their own set of impacts,” Bhadwal explained. “That further intensifies the heat
conditions in a particular location.”
The greatest effects of extreme heat are borne by those who are the most deprived in both rural
and urban areas, who aren’t able to access cooling, shelter, or enough water. However, even
those who have air conditioning or fans need to control their usage due to power interruptions
and the increasing cost of energy. Most households are only capable of cooling only one or two
“The time you leave of the air-conditioned area into a space that’s not air-conditioned and you’re
not productive, you’re incredibly unproductive. It is difficult to feel like taking a walk or doing any
activity in that area,” Bhadwal said.
The full economic and health impact of this current heatwave could require months to be
determined as scientists count the number of deaths, wages lost and school days missed and
reduced hours of work.
A lack of political willpower continues to block any action
There aren’t quick or simple solutions to the dangers of a heatwave. Climate change is over 100
years into the future. Restructuring economies and cities in order to deal with the increasing
temperatures could take years.
There are methods to safeguard the people of South Asia from heatwaves However, it’s going
take leaders from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan to consider the issue much more
serious than they have done so far. India has made a commitment to cutting out its contribution
to climate change in 2070 which is several decades behind the world. Pakistan has not
committed to a net-zero goal even once.
“Solutions are there, but climate change is not on anyone’s agenda,” said Aseem Prakash the
founder of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington. “I don’t think
any political party is talking about climate change.”
Better urban planning including the planting of trees, green spaces better water infrastructure
pollution control, and more accurate forecasting of the weather can all ensure that fewer people
suffer from rising temperatures. Moving to more sustainable energy sources could aid in
reducing the issue over the long term. However, the leaders of South Asia are more focused on
resolving the Covid-19 pandemic and some are also facing political instability. Pakistan was
ousted from its premiere in the month of March and Sri Lanka’s premier quit this week.
On a larger scale, it’s difficult to garner attention to the negative effects of climate change, and
also to gather the resources required to prevent it from becoming more severe. “I don’t think
people are going to wake up, because political leaders are framing the issue to score political
points,” Prakash stated. A lot of the action is, therefore, required to be taken at the local level,
between governors, mayors, and elected officials in local areas who are able to break down a
global issue into local stakes. “Political entrepreneurship is needed,” Prakash said.
The challenge of reducing and adapting to the increasing temperatures in South Asia demands
international action as well. India is currently the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter
however, the majority of past emissions were from countries with higher incomes such as the
US as well as those in Europe. Therefore, the countries that contributed to the most
climate-related change are in an obligation of helping those who are now suffering the
consequences the way Pakistan’s climate minister said on Twitter.
These countries that are wealthy, however, have been unwilling to take on paying their carbon
The decision to sacrifice climate change commitments in exchange for urgent political or
economic demands isn’t exclusive to South Asia. For instance, the US has been advocating for
additional drilling for oil following the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an example in spite of its
own zero-emissions goals. However, the current heatwave in India and Pakistan offers a fresh
level of urgency for these nations to are facing in tackling the effects of climate change. How
over 1.5 billion people manage extreme heat will determine how much the planet will heat up,
and if there isn’t immediate action to reduce emissions and protect vulnerable people across the
globe the risk of heatwaves is only going to get more severe.
“These incidences are going to increase over the years, and each one of us is going to be
facing it in one form or the other,” Bhadwal declared.