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Extreme heat scorches parts of north India; New Delhi on high alert

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A man drinks water as severe heat grips Lucknow, India, on May 18, 2024.

Parts of northwest India sweltered under scorching temperatures Saturday, with the capital, New Delhi, under a severe weather alert as extreme temperatures struck parts of the country.

India’s weather department expects heat wave conditions to persist across the north for the next few days and has put several states on high alert.

On Friday, parts of New Delhi reported up to 47.1 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit). The nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan also saw temperatures soar; they are likely to stay high over the next few days, said Soma Sen Roy, a scientist at the India Meteorological Department.

Roy cautioned people against going outdoors under the afternoon sun. He advised drinking plenty of water and wearing loose-fitting clothes. Those who are especially vulnerable, such as the elderly, should stay indoors, he said.

The extreme temperatures coincide with a six-week-long general election, with experts worried that the heat wave could increase health risks as people wait in long lines to cast their vote or candidates campaign aggressively in the outdoors. One minister fainted due to heat last month while addressing an election rally in Maharashtra state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his main challenger, Rahul Gandhi of the opposition Congress Party, were expected to hold rallies in New Delhi later Saturday, as the city heads to the polls on May 25.

Satish Kumar, a 57-year-old rickshaw driver in the capital, said his work was suffering because of the heat. “People are not coming outside, [markets] are nearly empty,” he said.

Pravin Kamath, a 28-year-old who runs a cart selling cold drinks, complained that it was so hot he could hardly stand being outdoors. “But I must work. What can I do? I am poor, so I have to do it.”

The main summer months — April, May and June — are always hot in most parts of India before monsoon rains bring cooler temperatures. But the heat has become more intense in the past decade and is usually accompanied by severe water shortages, with tens of millions of India’s 1.4 billion people lacking running water.

A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that examines the source of extreme heat, found that a searing heat wave in April that struck parts of Asia was made at least 45 times more likely in some parts of the continent by climate change.

Climate experts say extreme heat in South Asia during the pre-monsoon season is becoming more frequent and the study found that extreme temperatures are now about 0.85 C (1.5 F) hotter in the region because of climate change.

At least 28 heat-related deaths were reported in Bangladesh, as well as five in India, in April. Surges in heat deaths have also been reported in Thailand and the Philippines this year, according to the study.

Extreme heat is fast becoming a public health crisis in India, with more than 150 people dying last year during heat waves. The government estimates nearly 11,000 people have died during heat waves this century, yet experts say such figures are likely a vast undercount.

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