Women and marginalised groups bear the brunt of heat wave: Study on Delhi street vendors reveal

The Heatwave Havoc report is perhaps the first study that sheds light on how heat waves impact street vendors in Delhi, focusing on health risks, livelihood challenges, and adaptation strategies.
People are filling water in plastic drums from  a municipality tanker during a high temperature heat wave, in New Delhi.
People are filling water in plastic drums from a municipality tanker during a high temperature heat wave, in New Delhi on June 13, 2024 (Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

NEW DELHI: Guddi, a middle-aged hawker, runs a street side cart of sugarcane juice in a corner of Delhi. She is braving the fury of the ongoing extreme heatwave to make her ends meet. Unaware of the heatwave impacting her organs, the rustic battles it out in her own way.

“These days there is no morning. The day starts with the blazing sun. It slowly turns into an inferno at noon and acts like a firestorm for the rest of the day,” she describes.

Her body first starts regulating heat by sweating it out when she pushes her cart with a mounted small crusher machine to a corner of Sundar Nagari area of Delhi before noon. In the afternoon, as her body starts giving up due to exhaustion, she pours two mugs of iced drinking water on her head to cool herself. As moisture on her wet clothes starts to dissipate, it sticks to her body and causes itching. Soon, she feels feverish and takes a paracetamol pill to carry on with her work till 11 pm.

Her effort to cope with the thermal discomfort is not adequately compensated as she does not get commensurate financial yield. “Log ghar se bahar hi nahi nikalte, bikri kaise hogi (In this heat, people don’t come out of their houses, how will we sell anything?)” she exclaims when asked about her business.

Likewise, a vegetable vendor claims that he suffers substantial losses as the veggies deteriorate rapidly in the heat. At times, the losses mount to Rs 500-600, he rues.

These samples underline the deadly impact of the heatwave on the lowest strata of the society. Street vendors are badly impacted by rising temperatures though they are the least contributors to the heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas.

Heatwave, Delhi
(Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

The unequal and uneven impact of heatwaves in urban areas has been investigated and documented by Greenpeace India and National Hawkers Federation of India after surveying 721 street vendors in different parts of Delhi.

The report, ‘Heat Havoc – Investigating Impact on Street Vendors’ underlines how poorer neighbourhoods face a higher risk of heat stress where the body struggles to regulate its internal temperature while wealthy neighbourhoods relatively manage to cope easily with their resources. Moreover, poor neighbourhoods also face severe economic risk than others. Overall, the heatwave-induced stress shows the deep inequality and the inability of the government to address it holistically.

Key highlights of the Report:

Health Risks: 73.44% of street vendors experienced irritability, 66.93% report headaches, and 67.46% suffer from dehydration due to extreme heat.

Income Loss: 49.27% of street vendors reported a loss of income during heatwaves, with 80.08% of them acknowledging a decline in customer numbers

Increased Expenses: 50.86% of vendors faced higher financial burdens due to additional household expenses, with an average extra expense of INR 4896.52 during extreme heat months.

Health Awareness: Only 68.92% of street vendors are aware of heatwaves, and a mere 9.56% know about Delhi’s Heat Action Plan.

Working Conditions: Street vendors work an average of 11.84 hours per day, with 63.88% not taking breaks during heatwaves.

Medical Issues: 7 out of 8 women street vendors experienced high blood pressure, and many middle-aged women reported menstrual cycle delays due to heat.

Lack of Facilities: 97.6% of vendors wanted medical facilities, 95.9% needed washrooms, and 91.5% sought access to drinking water at marketplaces.

Emergency Preparedness: 82.74% of street vendors have no guidance on handling heatwaves.

Policy Recommendations: The report suggests declaring heatwaves as a national disaster, integrating street vendors into emergency response plans, and establishing Community Cooling Centres.

Government Support: Recommendations include providing regular rations, electricity, and establishing a dedicated loss and damage fund to compensate for heat-related work loss and expenses.

(With inputs from Online Desk)

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