Sweltering heat poses challenges for India’s election marathon

April 2024 also seems to be following similar temperature trends and will most likely be the 11th hottest month in a row….reports Asian Lite News

How will heat impact the biggest democratic exercise of the world? India, where parliamentary polls are underway, has been sweltering under unprecedented heatwaves ever since the beginning of the summer season in April, and these are more pronounced in east and peninsular India than the north and northwest.

The 2024 Indian general elections 2024 are a two-and-a-half-month process, with voting taking place in seven phases till June 1 where nearly 97 crore people are expected to exercise their voting rights. As elections enter the key phase at the beginning of May, the temperatures have also started peaking. Globally as well, each month is setting a new all-time record. The last 10 months, since June 2023, have been the hottest on record, mainly because of a super El Nino.

April 2024 also seems to be following similar temperature trends and will most likely be the 11th hottest month in a row. Sheer temperature and humidity will increasingly make it harder to work in the open and India’s ongoing election process has shown how much the complexities of weather and climate impact the voting and canvassing process.

What led to an intense heatwave in India?

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had already predicted more than double the average heatwaves during April-June, i.e. 10 to 20 days of heat waves against a normal of four to eight days to be precise.

The heat this year is expected to be worse than in 2023, which has been the warmest year on record to date.

Mercury has been settling between 42 and 45 degrees, even soaring to 47 degrees in some parts of the country. April has seen one of the longest spells of heatwave extending up to 15 days. Parts of east and peninsular India have been the worst hit, as they are also battling humidity.

Kerala is under the grip of a record heatwave and has reported 10 deaths due to heat stress while waiting in voting queues. According to the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), around 413 heat-related health issues like sunburn, rashes, and heat stroke cases have been reported until April 22. Odisha has also recorded one death and around 124 have been hospitalised due to heat-related illnesses across 16 districts.

Maximum temperatures across India show large parts of the country as a large red mass, indicating above-normal day temperatures over most parts of the country. An unprecedented rise in temperatures can be attributed to the absence of pre-monsoon rain and thundershowers during April.

Countrywide cumulative rainfall was deficit to the tune of 20 per cent. Rainfall during April over south peninsular India (12.6 mm) was the fifth lowest since 1901 and the second lowest since 2001. This was followed by east and northeast India which was deficit by 39 per cent.

According to Climate Central, a US-based organisation working on climate change, day temperatures were at least twice as likely because of climate change. The temperature conditions in the southern half of the country had a much stronger climate change influence. In coastal areas, 37 degrees Celsius is commonly used as a threshold for dangerous heat. This temperature occurred throughout most of the country, including along the eastern coast. Thirty-six out of 51 major cities had three or more days above 37 degrees since the start of the election season (April 19-April 30), and 18 cities had more than three days above 40 degrees.

“Persistence of anticyclones over Oman and adjoining areas and over Andhra Pradesh did not let the formation of any weather systems. In wake of this, the sea breeze was cut off over Odisha and West Bengal for most days, paving the way for unabated hot winds from land, leading to soaring temperatures,” IMD Director General Mrityunjay Mohapatra said.

“However, due to the passage of western disturbances at regular intervals, heatwaves did not set in over northwestern plains. In addition to this, remnants of receding El Nino have also contributed to the heat stress.”

Ashok Lavasa, former Election Commissioner, explains how India can adjust its election process to increasing summer heatwaves.

“Weather conditions are always taken into account to avert major disruption. There are mitigation measures which are taken well beforehand like arrangements for making people stand in the queue in cool places, availability of drinking water, etc,” he said.

“There is a provision by which the Election Commission of India can conduct elections anytime in 180 days but they have to be extremely careful that the term of the government is not curtailed even by a day.”

Another problem is that the February-March period is exam time in schools and colleges so one cannot disrupt the academic cycle as well. “The maximum precautions are taken to minimise the extremes. However, one may consider this, if (temperatures) continue to increase,” he said.

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