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Temperatures Up To 51°C Bring Health, Economic Crisis to South Asia

danishkhan/iStockPhoto
danishkhan/iStockPhoto

With 2016 already predicted to be the hottest year in the scientific record, residents of the northeastern Indian city of Phalodi are begging their government to do more to alleviate the suffering caused by temperatures reaching 51ºC (123.8ºF)—the highest the country has ever recorded.

Phalodi customarily experiences wide temperature swings. But the latest summer heat wave in the desert region has provoked an “unprecedented medical crisis,” the Guardian reports. The number of patients seeking assistance from the city’s public hospital for heat-related health problems has doubled.

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The city’s experience is only the most acute example of the challenges that an extreme heat wave, accompanied by persistent drought, has presented to a large swath of south Asia, from Pakistan to Bangladesh, closing schools and workplaces, withering crops, and even melting road surfaces.

Some hospitals have been forced to cancel surgeries. “It is incredibly hot. None of the air conditioners or coolers are working,” a nursing officer in one Indian hospital told the Guardian. “We have running water, but the water is stored in tanks on top of the buildings, and when it comes out of the tap the water is so hot that you can’t even wash your hands with it.”

In one village, an elderly farmer said the heat had destroyed his harvest and even “the trees and saplings have all dried up.” The community lacks electricity or a well, and villagers must trudge kilometres through the heat for drinking water, while homes lack any cooling except the wind.

India’s Meteorological Department predicts the heat will last at least into June.