June 27, 2022

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Poor workers bear the brunt of India’s heat wave

Poor workers bear the brunt of India's heat wave

NOIDA, India (Reuters) – For construction worker Yogendra Tundri, life on a construction site on the outskirts of India’s capital, New Delhi, is tough enough. This year, record high temperatures are making it unbearable.

As India grapples with an unprecedented heat wave, the vast majority of the country’s poor workers, who generally work outdoors, are exposed to scorching temperatures.

“There’s a lot of heat and if we don’t work, what are we going to eat? For a few days, we work and then we sit without work for a few days because of the fatigue and the heat,” Tendre said.

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Temperatures in the New Delhi area have reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this year, often causing Tendri and his wife Lata, who works at the same construction site, to fall ill. This in turn means that they lose income.

The severe heat wave is likely to see some parts of Delhi see temperatures north of 120 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

Lata said while standing outside their home, a makeshift shack with a tin roof.

Scientists have linked the early start of a sweltering summer to climate change, and say more than a billion people in neighboring India and Pakistan are somehow at risk from the extreme heat.

India suffered its warmest March in more than 100 years and parts of the country experienced the highest temperatures ever in April.

Many places, including New Delhi, have seen the temperature scale above 40 degrees Celsius. More than two dozen people have died of suspected heat stroke since late March, and demand for electricity is at its highest level in several years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on state governments to put in place measures to mitigate the impact of the extreme heat. Read more

Tendri and Laata live with their two young children in a slum near the construction site in Noida, a city belonging to New Delhi. They moved from their home state of Chhattisgarh in central India to search for work and higher wages around the capital.

At the construction site, workers scale walls, lay concrete and carry heavy loads, using tattered scarves around their heads as protection from the sun.

But even when the couple finish their daily work, they don’t get enough rest because their house is hot, having soaked up the heat of the sun all day.

Federal government data showed heat stress was the most common cause of death, after lightning, from forces of nature in the past 20 years, said Avikal Somvanshi, an urban environment researcher from the Center for Science and Environment in India.

“Most of these deaths occur among men between the ages of 30 and 45. These are working-class, blue-collar men who have no choice but to work in the sweltering heat,” Somfanci said.

Somvanshi said there are no laws in India that prohibit outdoor activity when temperatures break a certain level, unlike in some Middle Eastern countries.

(covering) By Sunil Kataria in New Delhi; Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Neil Follek and Bradley Perrett

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