Unequal heat in the capital

The uneven impact of heatwaves on street vendors studied and documented by Greenpeace India and the National Hawkers Federation of India is an important input for policy wonks.
The heatwave-induced stress shows the deep inequality and the inability of the government to address it holistically.
The heatwave-induced stress shows the deep inequality and the inability of the government to address it holistically.

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.

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.  

Findings     

Street vendors in Delhi sell a variety of products – from refreshments to electronic gadgets to household necessities – at subsidised rates. But they work under subhuman conditions without any social security.

 The average daily working hours of a majority of the street vendors is around 12 hours without ‘working breaks’ during the heatwaves. The report shows that around 70% of street vendors are impacted by the heatwaves and experience several heat-related illnesses such as irritability, headache, dehydration, sunburn, fatigue and cramps. (see table)

 The extreme temperature and heatwave exacerbate the existing health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, and increase their discomfort, particularly during the day. The report also points to their abysmal housing and economic conditions in one-thirds of Delhi, which is nearly unsustainable human habitat. The average size of a household in the city was found to be 5.02 units per sq metre without basic cooling facilities.

Women who participated in discussions during the survey mentioned warmer nights led to sleeplessness and the resultant exhaustion throughout the day.

Further, the report showed seven out of eight women street vendors experiencing high blood pressure. Notably, women in the middle age group raised concerns about delays in their menstrual cycles due to the extreme heat. They also flagged the issue of children in their families exhibiting symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea and nosebleeds, further complicating the challenges.

However, the majority (83%) of street vendors are aware of the heatwave but lack the systemic support to work or engage with government stakeholders to mitigate its impact, the report found. A significant portion (68.92%) of street vendors have heard of the concept of heatwaves, locally known as loo and andhi (storm). In contrast, only a small fraction (9.56%) of street vendors know about the Delhi Heat Action Plan (HAP). 

These findings highlight the widespread impact of extreme temperatures on public health, emphasising the need for effective measures to address heat-related concerns.

 Since deadly heat and its severe impact result from existing economic inequality, policy action at every level of political and social life is necessary, including wages, housing, healthcare and adult social care, the report concludes.

Health issues among street vendors during heatwave

  • Irritability

  • Headache

  • Dehydration

  • Sunburn

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle Cramps

Source: Heat Havoc Repo

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