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India’s Lethal Heatwave: The Urgent Need for Emergency Declaration and Action

India court urges heatwave emergency declaration as deaths rise

India is currently grappling with an oppressive heatwave that has seen temperatures across several cities soar beyond the 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) mark, bringing life to a scorching halt and claiming lives in its wake.

The exact number of fatalities attributed directly to this severe bout of heat remains unreported at a national level. However, the situation in the eastern state of Bihar is grim, revealing that at least 14 individuals have succumbed to heat stroke within a single day amid the soaring temperatures.

In a critical move, the Rajasthan High Court, located in the western part of the country which is bearing the brunt of some of this week’s most extremely hot weather, criticized the authorities’ lack of effective action to shield the population from the severe climate conditions.

“Due to extreme weather conditions in the form of heatwaves, hundreds of lives have been lost this month,” the court declared, emphasizing the urgency of the situation. The plea made by the court is poignant, pointing out the dire lack of an alternative planet and pressing the necessity for stringent measures to ensure the survival and flourishing of future generations.

“We do not have a planet B which we can move onto… If we do not take strict action now, we will lose the chance of seeing our future generations flourish forever.”

Responding to the crisis, the court has directed the establishment of compensation mechanisms for families of heat-related fatalities and proposed that such heatwaves be declared “national calamities.” This classification would enable mobilization of emergency relief responses, akin to those for floods, cyclones, and other natural disasters.

Among the reported casualties in Bihar were 10 poll workers, who were preparing for an election. Their duties, carried out under the inexorable heat, unfortunately led to fatal outcomes. Local reports shed light on the overwhelmed healthcare facilities, with public hospitals barely coping with the increasing patient load amidst failing infrastructure, like ineffective air conditioning systems crucial during such crises.


The adjacent state of Odisha also reported devastating impacts, with suspected heatstroke leading to more deaths and hospital admissions. The toll of the heatwave is not just a present calamity but a harbinger of more extreme weather patterns to come.

India, while accustomed to high summer temperatures, now faces an escalated threat due to climate change. Studies show that heatwaves are becoming longer, more intense, and increasingly frequent, a clear signal of the changing climate’s impact.

Amid these rising temperatures, the nation’s capital, New Delhi, saw its power demand surge to unprecedented levels, a testament to the growing pressure on resources and infrastructures in coping with such extremes.

The underlying causes of this heatwave extend beyond the immediate environmental impacts, touching upon broader issues like greenhouse gas emissions. India, the world’s third-largest emitter, has taken strides towards a net-zero emissions goal by 2070, lagging behind the ambitious targets set by the industrialized West by two decades. The dependence on coal for energy underscores the complex challenge of balancing economic development and environmental sustainability.

The government acknowledges the critical role of fossil fuels in meeting the escalating energy demands of its burgeoning population and driving economic upliftment. As the nation navigates its path towards sustainable development, the current crisis underlines the urgency for innovative solutions and immediate action to mitigate the harsh realities of climate change and safeguard the well-being of its citizens.

Ethan Wilder

Ethan Wilder is a conservation photographer and videographer whose lens captures the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world and the critical challenges it faces. With a focus on wilderness preservation and animal rights, Ethan's work is a poignant reminder of what is at stake. His photo essays and narratives delve into the heart of environmental issues, combining stunning visuals with compelling storytelling. Ethan offers a unique perspective on the role of art in activism, inviting readers to witness the planet's wonders and advocating for their protection.

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