Sunday, June 22, 2014

Heat waves in India claim more lives than the government statistics reveal

Supriya Sharma in Scroll In: On Friday afternoon, as a heat wave officially struck Delhi, Raja Burman paced up platform number four at New Delhi railway station, carting the heavy bags of passengers, who, as they alighted from air-conditioned coaches, loudly complained about the unbearable temperatures before dumping their luggage in the arms of the profusely sweating middle-aged porter.

The temperature in Delhi soared to 45 degree Celsius, which, according to the definition used by the Indian Meteorological Department, amounts to a "heat wave". The city's poor might not have much choice in the matter but working in extreme heat is a grave health risk.

A new study has found that mortality rates in the city of Ahmedabad were 43% higher in May 2010 when the city experienced a heat wave as compared to the same days in 2009 and 2011. An excess of 1,344 deaths occurred in May 2010, relative to the average for the years before and after.

The researchers had accessed the day-wise death counts from Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, which revealed neither the cause of deaths nor the socio-economic profile of the dead. Since the cause of the deaths was not known, it could be argued that the excess deaths in May 2010 may not necessarily be related to the heat.

However, the researchers checked the government's epidemic surveillance system to rule out any outbreaks that could have contributed to an increase in mortality rates in 2010 – which implies that, all things the same, more people die in conditions of extreme heat....

A view in Ahmedabad, shot by Harmeet Singh59, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

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