India suffered more than 200 days of heatwaves in the early summer season this year, more than five times what it faced in 2021, revealed government data.
Last year, there were just 36 days of heatwaves, making 2022’s 203 heatwave days – the highest in the country’s recent past, according to India’s earth sciences minister Jitendra Singh.
Several states, such as the neighbouring agrarian Punjab and Haryana, recorded 12 times the number of heatwave days in 2022 compared to last year. In 2021, both states witnessed just two days of heatwaves.
The maximum days of extreme heat were recorded in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand which suffered 28 days of heatwaves, followed by desert state Rajasthan at 26, and Punjab and Haryana at 24 each.
India witnessed the early onset of an intense heatwave in March and April which almost entirely eliminated its spring season, leading to a huge impact on agriculture production.
The heatwave this year is known to be the worst in its recorded 122-year history, with neighbouring Pakistan recording the highest worldwide positive temperature anomaly during March.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) declares a heatwave if the maximum station temperature reaches at least 40C in the plains and at least 30C in hilly areas or if a sudden jump of 6C or above is witnessed.
This year, India witnessed its first heatwave warning in the first half of April with temperatures breaking all previous records.
“India experienced prolonged spells of heatwave during March and April 2022, hence, the average maximum temperature of March 2022 had been the highest for All India (33. 1C) and northwest India (30. 7C) and it had been the second highest for central India (35. 2C) as per the data during the period 1901 to 2022,” Dr Singh, the earth sciences minister, was quoted by Indian media outlets as saying.
Such increased intensity and early onset of heat has been directly attributed to the climate crisis which has made heatwaves 30 times more likely in south Asia, according to the World Weather Attribution initiative.
A similar phenomenon has gripped large parts of Asia and Europe with the UK recording temperatures around an unprecedented 40C and China and Japan battling blistering heat as well.
The Indian government’s data, which has never gathered heatwave data on a federal level before, reveals how prolonged this phenomenon has become.
State governments usually keep a record for heatwave days, with the national figure of 203 days being calculated by totalling the average number of heatwave days in states during the summer.
“Abnormal temperature events can impose severe physiological stress on the human body as the body operates best within a fairly normal temperature range. There is a marked relationship between human mortality and thermal stress,” Dr Singh said on the impact of increased temperatures.
A prolonged period of heatwave had devastating impacts on human health and agricultural production in the country with dozens of deaths reported in March and April.
A separate report from Indian Council of Agricultural Research published early in July also revealed crops, fruits, vegetables and animals were hugely impacted during the heat spell in nine states, including the agri-belt states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra and hilly states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
India, the second largest producer of wheat, had restricted its exports early in May after a shortage due to impact to the crops during the heatwaves, a decision that came amid an exisiting global grain shortage.
However, the report reveals the heatwave also resulted in poor vegetation and increased pest infestation like fall army and whitefly attacks and viral infections in crops and livestocks.
The impact was also seen in important horticulture crops like mango, citrus, apples, plum, pomegranate, lemon, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, bitter gourd, tomato and okra, the report stated.
The hot weather also impacted milk and egg production by impacting the body temperature of animals, it states.