Unprecedented early heatwaves in India, Pakistan 30 times more likely in 2022 due to climate change: Scientists 

Prime Minister Narendra;Modi's promise to feed the world had to be reversed as wheat cultivation got hit by record temperature rise;
Unprecedented early heatwaves in India, Pakistan 30 times more likely in 2022 due to climate change: Scientists 

The unusual, early heat waves sweeping India and Pakistan in 2022 were made 30 times more likely due to the direct impact of climate change, a new study showed. 

Thirty scientists from 10 countries in The World Weather Attribution Network conducted a rapid analysis of the link between climate change and heat waves based on observations from 20 models. 

The rise was triggered by a 1.2 degrees Celsius average global temperature rise over pre-industrial levels, they said.

Such heat waves will become even more common and intense with further warming, the report pointed out. These conditions would become “an additional factor of 2-20 more likely and 0.5-1.5°C hotter compared to 2022 in case of a 2°C rise”, it predicted. 

The report put on record that the predicted results are “likely (to be) conservative”, indicating that the actual outcomes may turn out to be harsher.

Early, prolonged heat waves

“In countries where we have the data, heat waves are the deadliest extreme weather events. At the same time, they are the type of extremes most strongly increasing in a warming world,” said Friederike Otto from Imperial College, London — one of the contributors of the study.

As long as greenhouse gas emissions continue, events like these will become an increasingly common disaster, he added.

“High temperatures are common in India and Pakistan but what made this unusual was that it started so early and lasted so long,” said Krishna Achuta Rao from Centre for Atmospheric Sciences of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, another author of the report. 

We know this will happen more often as temperatures rise and we need to be better prepared for it, he added.

The number of heat waves and severe heat waves in India was the second highest (!46) in April 2022 Incidentally April 2022 after 404 in 2010.

“Thousands of people in this region, who contributed very little to global warming, are now bearing the brunt of it and will continue to do so if emissions are not significantly cut globally,” said Arpita Mondal, co-author and professor of civil engineering and climate studies at IIT Bombay.

Since the beginning of March, India and Pakistan as well as large parts of South Asia experienced prolonged heat that at the time of writing (May 2022) still hasn’t subsided, the report observed, adding:

March this year was the hottest in India and Pakistan since records began 122 years ago. At the same time, the month was extremely dry, with 62 per cent less-than-normal rainfall reported over Pakistan and 71 per cent below normal over India, making the conditions favourable for local heating from the land surface. 

It further pointed out that the heatwave continued over the month of April and reached its preliminary peak towards the end of the month. “By April 29, 70 per cent of India was affected by the heatwave.”

While heatwaves are not uncommon in the season preceding the monsoon, the very high temperatures so early in the year, coupled with much less-than-average rain led to extreme heat conditions with devastating consequences for public health and agriculture, it added.

Early reports indicate 90 deaths in India and Pakistan, and an estimated 10-35 per cent reduction in crop yields in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab due to the heatwave, the scientists wrote.

The dry heat wave has mainly affected the people who have to go outside to earn a daily wage, and also lack access to consistent electricity and cooling at home, which limits their options to cope under prolonged stress of heat, the report pointed out.

“Rising temperatures from more intense and frequent heat waves will render coping mechanisms inadequate as conditions in some regions meet and exceed limits to human survivability,” it added. 

Mitigating further warming is essential to avoid loss of life and livelihood, and adaptation to extreme heat can be effective at reducing mortality, the researchers stressed.

Warming forced imports U-turn

Climate change has forced a U-turn in India’s declared foreign policy of supplying wheat to countries where such supply was impacted due to the Ukraine war, the study found.

“The 2022 heatwave is estimated to have led to at least 90 deaths across India and Pakistan, … forest fires in India. The heat reduced India’s wheat crop yields, causing the government to reverse an earlier plan to supplement the global wheat supply that has been impacted by the war in Ukraine,” the report stated.

Around mid-April, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country had “enough food” for its 1.4 billion people, and was ready to send food to the rest of the world in the aftermath of soaring food prices due to the war in Ukraine. 

India, globally the second-largest producer of wheat, exported 8.2 million tonnes during 2021-22 — a record. The government claimed India will be able to export 10-15 million tonnes in the current fiscal year.

Unusual heat during this year's summer, particularly an unprecedented early heatwave, had severely affected the wheat production in the country and forced a U-turn in India’s policy. India banned the import of wheat on May 13, 2022, drawing flak from the international community.     

“We had a record temperature breaking March that affected cultivation, but clearly PM had no clue when he announced in mid-April that India was ready to send food across the world," a climate expert pointed out to this reporter.l

Such types of crop failures are only going to increase, warned an expert linked to the United Nations World Food Programme.

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