Halfway to Boiling

As city turns smelter, the Met office marked this May as hottest in 11 years; while 52oC was a false alarm, upwards of 46.7oC were never witnessed since Independence.
A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.Photo | PTI

Do you know how heat stroke sets in? Your bare head under a cloudless blue-gray sky, exposed to the pitiless white of the mid-noon Sun, gets hotter and hotter. Your face, assaulted by hot winds, your tongue, trachea scorched; your palate has been dry for hours; how long have you not been sweating? Haven’t you noticed? And now your internal temperature is shooting up. Do you see flashing lights, black spots in your visions? Maybe it is the mirage. You’re breathing is shallow, strained. A nausea is creeping up your esophagus. Is your heart thumping; head getting heavier? Would you like to close your eyes?

A Google search will tell you during heat stroke, body temperature rises rapidly. Now, our body has certain mechanisms to maintain homeostasis, an optimal condition at which physiological processes may continue to ensure proper body functions; sweating is one such mechanism to release excess heat accumulating in the body. Thus, when it fails, internal temperatures may spike to over 106°F (6° warmer than normal) or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. If untreated, tissues will start to die; wreaking havoc on vital organs and processes. Needless to say, this will usher in grave complications, even death.

As the city turns into a smelter in the severe heat, we have lost two fellow residents to the heatwave, both succumbing to heatstroke. And then there are the other ramifications, some more subtle than the other. Water supply has taken a hit; drums, utensils, buckets, paint-cans, and almost every other vessel queuing up for hours on end to secure the minimum water (if lucky). And the fires; erupting across the city as electrical devices, wiring overheat, melt, fuse, explode, fires have robbed us way too much. While we may not always attribute these losses to the heatwave, its effects loom in the background.

 A child rests near a portable fan on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
A child rests near a portable fan on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.Photo | PTI

Frying pan on fire

Several days in the past month, the national capital seethed under a heatwave; intense heat triggering record-breaking ground temperatures, with mercury shooting up to the highest it has been in 79 years. According to the met department, the city’s primary weather station, the Safdarjung observatory, on May 29 recorded a maximum temperature of 46.8°C, a first in independent India. A temperature of 46.7°C was recorded on June 17, 1945.

India Meteorological Department (IMD) reports state that Delhi recorded its hottest May in 11 years, both days and nights significantly warmer than usual. The average maximum temperature at Safdarjung was 41.4°C, the highest since 41.5°C in 2013, and 1.5 degrees higher than the typical May maximum of 39.9°C.

Data shows that Safdarjung experienced five consecutive heatwave days. Certain other Delhi stations have seen over 10 days of heatwave. The maximum has been above 40°C since May 14; days in early May too exceeded 40°C.

A met department official noted that dry, hot winds from Rajasthan and southern Haryana, contributed to the city’s rising temperatures. Clear skies, lack of rain, led to increased surface heating. Only one western disturbance affected Delhi in May, resulting in very light rainfall on May 11. Typically, three to four western disturbances hit the plains in May; this year, however, the IMD predicted only a drizzle on May 31-June 1 due to a weak western disturbance.

Capital @ 52°C, a saga

The city was alarmed when it heard temperatures had skyrocketed over 52°C in north Delhi’s Mungeshpur. They were also slightly proud as they had endured the highest surface temperatures ever recorded in the country; that’s something.

On May 29, the IMD reported that its Mungeshpur weather station had recorded a highest temperature of 52.9°C. The next day, a Nagpur weather station reported that mercury stood at 56°C; the nation went bonkers. Following such shocking temperature readings, the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, in collaboration with the IMD, clarified that the readings were incorrect due to certain sensor malfunctions at the weather stations. Relief!

A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
Heatwave blisters on: Delhi sees driest May in 10 years
A woman carries a water pipe amid the ongoing water crisis, at Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi.
A woman carries a water pipe amid the ongoing water crisis, at Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi.Photo | PTI

The committee tasked with reviewing the anomaly compared these readings with other automatic weather stations (AWS) in Delhi, revealing a positive bias (error) in the readings at Mungeshpur. The AWS reported temperatures approximately 3 degrees higher than the standard instruments during peak periods. Thus, the peak temperature in the area on May 29 was around 49.9°C. Mungeshpur recorded a maximum temperature of 48.8 °C on May 27, 49.9°C on May 28, and 52.9°C on May 29. “Necessary remedial measures are being taken up by the IMD to avoid the repetition of such errors in AWS,” the IMD said.

Met officials noted that these high temperatures were recorded because areas like Mungeshpur, Narela, and Najafgarh are particularly susceptible to the hot winds from Rajasthan, exacerbating the severe weather.

However, as a relief to city residents, June started with partly cloudy skies, intermittent drizzles and gusty winds. No heatwave reported on June 1. The IMD however predicted heatwaves in isolated places, stating temperatures will vary between 43-44°C till June 7, predicting three-days-cloudy skies in the coming week.

A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
Heatwave: At 52.9°C Delhi smoulders, a drizzle of relief follows

Health woes

The lethal heatwave has claimed two lives in the city. One of them, a 40-year-old man succumbed to some ‘heat-related illness’ at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. The man from Bihar’s Darbhanga, working at a factory that manufactured pipe fittings, was probably engaged in physically exhausting labour. The second death, reported on May 28 from Safdarjung Hospital, was a 55-year-old man who died hours after being admitted to the emergency department. Doctors said symptoms of heatstroke were noted in both victims. The National Centre for Disease Control has identified heatstroke as a “life-threatening condition” with mortality rates up to 60%.

Meanwhile, the risk of strokes amid those vulnerable has also increased during the heatwave. According to doctors, dehydration has been identified as a significant factor contributing to heat strokes and its physical manifestations; however, its direct influence on the stroke risk remains unclear. Doctors at PSRI hospital shared that two patients, a 90-year-old male and a 78-year-old female, were recently admitted with stroke symptoms like slurred speech and arm weakness. Doctors found dehydration as a potential factor behind the strokes.

“Dehydration is the most common post-stroke complication; studies show it can lead to poor functional outcomes and increased mortality rates. Identifying and managing dehydration in stroke patients is essential for optimal care, as dehydration has been associated with unfavorable outcomes,” said Dr Bhaskar Shukla, senior neurology consultant.

Parched land

Under the reign of the scorching Sun, the national capital stares at severe water crisis; residents desperate as they chase down water tankers. Videos going ‘viral’ on social media show Okhla Phase 2 residents scrambling with empty vessels, anxiously running after water tankers. Some bypass queues, climb atop tankers with pipes to siphon whatever little they can into buckets. Similar scenes unfolded at Sanjay camp in Chanakyapuri, where empty buckets stand as sentinels guarding their owner’s place in queues.

In an effort to mitigate the crisis, the Delhi government said the Delhi Jal Board has been instructed to deploy 200 teams across the city to address improper water usage during the times of crisis. Teams have been tasked with cracking down on activities such as car-washing, tank overflows, and use of domestic water supply for construction or commercial purposes. “These teams shall be deployed from May 30 and shall impose a fine of Rs 2,000 on anyone found wasting water and shall disconnect any illegal water connection on construction sites or commercial establishments,” the order signed by Delhi water minister Atishi said.

The government has also sought Supreme Court intervention, pleading for directions to Haryana government to release additional water to the Wazirabad barrage. The plea is set to be heard by the apex court on June 3. “Constrained to file petition on account of the acute shortage of water being faced by the people of Delhi, triggered by the ongoing severe heat conditions in North India, particularly in the national capital,” the Delhi government plea said.

The petition highlighted the “extraordinary and excessive surge in demand for water in the city” due to the heatwave, leading to frequent water supply cuts across the national capital. The government has implemented all possible administrative measures for optimizing, rationing, and targeting water supply, but the situation remains dire, the plea underlined, adding that, water shortage has “disrupted the daily life of the ordinary residents.” The government insists that Delhi urgently requires additional water to address the crisis, as the current measures are insufficient to meet the heightened demand caused by the severe heat.

Fire capital

With mercury levels nearing the 50°C mark, the excessive heat is leading to fire incidents, reported now on a routine basis. A major spike has been witnessed in fire-related SOS calls. Delhi Fire Service chief Atul Garg says the department has been kept busy with more than 200 calls regarding fire incidents coming in daily; over 2,990 calls were received this year. “We are receiving more than 200 fire-related calls daily; this is the highest in the last 10 years,” Garg told us.

According to top fire officer, an increased load on electrical wires and devices during the searing summer days make them increasingly susceptible to short circuits, thereby leading to fires. “So one needs to keep checking appliances to and avoid overloading,” he said. Due to the sudden spike in SOS calls, the fire department has been stretched to its limits. Just on Wednesday, the DFS received 183 fire-related calls at 66 fire stations across the city, with 2,300 fire personnel rushing to attend to them.

As per DFS data, 55 people have lost their lives in fire-related incidents while more than 3,000 have sustained injuries in the first five months of the year.

Women take cover under a scarf on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
Women take cover under a scarf on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.Photo | PTI

A tragedy

Recently, a major tragedy struck the city when seven newborn babies were killed in a massive hospital fire in Shahdara area, prompting multiple agencies to investigate the incident and devise a strategy so that such fatal incidents are not repeated. As per police probe, the incident was allegedly exacerbated due to gross violations of fire safety norms at the facility, which did not even have a No Objection Certificate from the fire department. Notably, most buildings that are gutted in fire incidents lack fire safety standards and clearance from the fire department.

A Fire NOC certifies that a building has been deemed to comply with the fire prevention and fire safety requirements in accordance with Rule 33 of the Delhi Fire Service Rules. Many commercial buildings in the city operate without having obtained a Fire NOC. While the fire department provides NOC to around 50-70 buildings yearly, several go unnoticed, continuing to operate, endangering lives and property.

Mitigation Measures

The Delhi government said a heatwave advisory has been issued by the health department to caution citizens on the effects and remedies of severe heat. District Medical Officers of the 11 city districts have been issued guidelines regarding measures to manage heat-related illnesses in health facilities. It included an advisory on daily recording and reporting of heatstroke cases, availability of adequate quantity of ORS (oral rehydration solution), essential medicines, IV fluids, ice-packs etc. Besides, a circular issued to schools for preparedness on heat-related illness advised to ensure students are sensitised against heat-related illnesses and allowed sufficient water breaks.

A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
Delhi government to fine Rs 2,000 for water wastage amid heatwave

Plea for water

The Delhi govt, while urging the Supreme Court to direct Haryana to release additional water to the city stated, “Access to water is one of the basic human rights of an individual. Not only is water essential for sustenance, but access to water also forms an essential component of the guarantee of dignity and a quality of life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

HC concerned

The Delhi High Court on May 31 expressed grave concern over the city’s future, noting the 52.3°C recorded in Mungeshpur. The court warned that continued deforestation could eventually turn Delhi into a barren desert. Although the IMD clarification may come as a relief, the court’s concern on deforestation cannot be brushed aside.

A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi.
Delhi HC warns of ‘barren desert’ amid record high temperature

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