When science sleeps

The Indian meteorological department is unable to explain why the recent heat wave is taking place in India. Hardly surprising for a government department

By Mario
Published: Tuesday 15 June 1999

Government offices in New Delhi generally have coolers and air-conditioners. They are quite effective at not only screening the heat but also at keeping officialdom at a safe distance from what the person on the street is going through. The death count of this year's heat wave has already touched 200. Yet the Indian meteorological department ( imd ) does not have a good enough explanation for the heat wave that is sweeping across several parts of the country. It says the lack of western disturbances, which cause rains in northern parts of India in March-April and bring down the surface temperatures, is responsible for the unusual heat conditions. But this fails to explain the unusual heat in Orissa.

While the heat wave may well be due to lack of western disturbances, why these disturbances did not take effect this year remains a mystery. But the way imd blames the lack of western disturbances rings a familiar bell to ears attuned to hearing Indian politicians blaming the invisible foreign hand in matters they cannot manage. If the premier meteorological agency of the country cannot explain the science of this phenomenon, who will? And who will account for the taxpayer's money spent on the salaries of the imd staff?

People who die during heat waves are invariably the poor who do not have desert coolers and air-conditioners to take respite from the heat. The cries of their families do not quite seem to propel our scientific establishment to understand the reasons behind the heat wave.

Several climatologists have been raising alarm that the heat wave is an early manifestation of global warming due to the greenhouse effect and that the years to come will see more such weather anomalies. But imd says it has no evidence that the heat wave is linked to global warming. Whether there is no evidence or no effort has been made to find that evidence is a simple guess. India's political system and its bureaucracy is yet to understand the reasons behind global warming, let alone finding ways to deal with it. This mental lassitude may be more damaging than the heat wave.

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