Economic Impacts of Heatwave in India

In March this year, India Meteorological Department (IMD) declared a heatwave. It was supposed to be spring season, if anything, the heatwaves kept getting longer. One study found that we are seeing these heatwaves last more days than ever before. For instance, we went from 413 days between 1981 and 1990 to 575 between 2001–2010 and 600 between 2011–2020. To begin with, what exactly is a heatwave?

Qualitatively, a heatwave is defined as a condition of air temperature that’s fatal to humans. Quantitatively, it is defined based on temperature thresholds over a region. When the maximum temperature departure ranges between 4.5 and 6 degrees, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) declares heatwave and severe heatwave is declared when the deviation from normal breaches over 6.4 degrees. This year, IMD issued an ‘Orange’ alert warning that severe heat wave is likely to prevail from March to June.

So why do you think there was a heatwave?

It’s mainly because of global warming and greenhouse emissions building up in earth’s atmosphere. The earth’s temperature has risen 1.2 degrees since the industrial era and the increased human activity is heating up our planet.

Having said that, how might these heatwaves affect us, can’t we just sit in air-conditioned rooms?

Here’s the thing, since many people are going use electricity, there can be power problems. After all, hotter summer translates to higher electricity consumption. And when we run short of coal, you start seeing frequent power cuts including blackouts that could potentially affect industrial production.

So, aren’t there enough coal reserves?

There are sufficient coal reserves as India is the world’s second-largest producer of coal. We have coal resources amounting to 319 billion tonnes (as on 2018), and we’ve largely been dependent on these little black nuggets for most of our energy needs. Unfortunately, they’ve not been very efficient in meeting production quotas. Thus, whenever we see a rise in demand for electricity, we have to import coal from other countries. However, the price of imported coal jumped when Russia invaded Ukraine and the state governments were unwilling to bear the extra cost. So, they resort to black-outs, low shedding rather than procuring power.  

There is another major and rather direct effect of heatwaves, which can be seen on the labour force who are working under the scorching sun and can’t afford to not go to work are mainly affected by these heatwaves.  When their productivity takes a turn for the worse, the whole country slows down. And if the heatwaves persist, we could lose 5.8% of the total working hours by 2030. That’s worth 34 million jobs.

The Astronomical temperatures are effectively baking many crops nationwide including wheat. It being a winter crop, it is sowed in winter and harvested in spring in late April. Russia and Ukraine together account for a quarter and a third of wheat trade, because of the war this market opened for India. The Indian government had originally predicted wheat output to be over 122 million tonnes this year. But summer arrived early in an intense manner, way above 40 degree and this heatwave made the crops wilt and reduced the moisture content of the crop itself. It doesn’t let the crop grow to its holistic state and some estimates suggest that nearly 15% of this crop could’ve withered away because of the unbearable heat. And reports suggest that India is already considering banning the export of this staple commodity.

According to the IPCC report which came out in March 2022, that for Indian subcontinent things are going to get worse if we continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions as we are doing currently. Indian government has pledged to reduce emissions and become carbon-neutral by 2070. Thus, India will have to walk an arduous road while making sure she doesn’t increase her carbon footprint by a huge margin.

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