Heatwave in Northern India Claims Lives of Dozens, Investigations Underway – South Asia Time

Heatwave in Northern India Claims Lives of Dozens, Investigations Underway

 June 22, 2023  

New Delhi — Officials in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are investigating a series of deaths that occurred in the Ballia district, where at least 68 people have lost their lives between Thursday and Sunday. The fatalities come as temperatures continue to soar in northern and eastern parts of the country, reaching a scorching 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit) this week.

The recent surge in deaths follows a prior warning from the country’s meteorological department regarding potential heat-related casualties. Heatwaves are a common occurrence during the summer months of May and June in India, but the intensifying effects of climate change have amplified the likelihood of record-breaking heatwaves.

Despite the alarming number of deaths, local officials have been unable to reach a consensus on the underlying cause. Critics have accused the government of failing to take adequate measures to prevent such casualties.

Dr. Diwakar Singh, a local health official, initially acknowledged that heatstroke may have been a contributing factor in the deaths of 25 individuals on June 16. He highlighted that the extreme temperatures significantly affected patients, particularly those above 60 years old with pre-existing health conditions. However, following his statement to the media, Dr. Singh was abruptly transferred to another district for allegedly providing careless information without proper verification.

Dr. Jayant Kumar, the Chief Medical Officer of Ballia, later stated that the spike in deaths could be attributed to various other ailments, including old age. A two-member committee of health directors has been appointed to investigate the cause of death. The committee has collected samples for further analysis and is awaiting the report to gain clarity on the situation.

Dr. N Tiwari, another health director involved in the investigation, acknowledged the adverse impact of the heatwave on patients admitted to the Ballia district hospital. However, he assured that arrangements had been made to alleviate the situation within the hospital premises.

Akhilesh Yadav, an opposition political party leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, criticized the state government for the rising death toll. Yadav argued that the government should have issued warnings about the heatwave and addressed the lack of district hospitals. He emphasized that the victims, mostly impoverished farmers, suffered due to delayed access to essential resources such as food, medicine, and timely treatment.

Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s Health Minister, pledged that the government is taking action to address the heatwave and the surge in deaths. Mandaviya stated that discussions would be held with states affected by or at risk of experiencing a heatwave to determine appropriate measures to combat heatstroke.

India, already considered one of the countries most affected by the climate crisis, faces mounting challenges due to the intensification of extreme weather events, as highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In recent years, both federal and state governments have implemented various initiatives to mitigate the impact of heatwaves, including school closures and public health advisories.

As investigations continue, the focus remains on identifying the factors contributing to the tragic loss of lives and implementing effective measures to safeguard vulnerable populations from the effects of heatwaves.