1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

India: Delhi heat wave has residents struggling

Murali Krishnan in New Delhi
May 27, 2024

As Delhi experiences scorching heat, many people need to be treated for heat exhaustion and stroke. Even election campaigning comes to a halt for a few hours each day. DW spoke to residents affected by the heat wave.

A man is holding a hose spraying water over another man's head
People in India are suffering amid scorching temperaturesImage: Murali Krishnan/DW

Scorching temperatures in Delhi have forced authorities to issue a red alert for the sweeping heat wave that has disrupted routine activities in India's capital.

Rohit Garg, a 24-year-old gig worker, was admitted to the capital's Safdarjung hospital when his body temperature rose and he began shivering. Delivering food parcels on his two-wheeler in the blistering heat enveloping Delhi had taken its toll, and he fainted at his last stop.

"His sugar level dropped, and he suffered from severe dehydration. We had to put him through rehydration therapy as he suffered a heat stroke," Ashutosh Singh, a doctor, told DW.

Jagan Das, a construction worker, has just recovered from a local hospital stay of four days, where he was on intravenous fluid.

"I was dehydrated and am fortunate to survive. Working shifts of 10 hours in high temperatures put me down," Das told DW.

Man pours water into another man's hand so he can drink while two other men look on
Residents do what they can to help each other cool down in the blistering heatImage: Murali Krishnan/DW

Sizzling Delhi

With Delhi continuing to reel under scorching heat, arrangements are in place at several hospitals to treat patients suffering from heat-related health problems such as exhaustion and stroke. Some have set up dedicated units to treat patients suffering from heat-related health problems.

The Delhi government has asked hospitals to initiate a heat-relief action plan and ensure preparedness to deal with Heat-Related Incidents (HRIs). In the last fortnight, 10-15% more heat-related patients have come to OPD and about 10% to the emergency department.

"Our hospital staff is being sensitized for quick pick-up of diagnosis and we are ready with rehydration therapy, depending on the severity of heat stroke patients," Sumit Ray, medical director of Holy Family Hospital, told DW.

With no respite from the heat expected anytime soon, the India Meteorological Department issued a "red alert" about severe weather conditions in the national capital. Najafgarh in south Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 47.8 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest of the season so far.

The Delhi government directed the schools that have not closed for summer vacations to do so with immediate effect.

Public parks and markets are reporting thin attendance, and zoo authorities have begun to introduce preventive measures such as hosing down animals and installing water coolers in enclosures.

A dog in Delhi standing by a public fountain
The animals in Delhi's streets are suffering tooImage: Murali Krishnan/DW

Extreme heat affects Delhi's poor

However, no help is forthcoming for Delhi's outdoor workers and low-income households, even though rising temperatures can pose serious health risks.

"We bear the brunt of the heat wave — dehydration and heatstroke — almost daily, and there is an absence of basic facilities from the scorching sun," Meena Devi, a daily construction worker, told DW.

Many contractors fail to provide essential requirements to their laborers. Lack of access to adequate health care facilities, and unsafe working conditions pose significant risks to workers' well-being.

"It is difficult to work, but if I don't, I won't get an income," said Devi, with her head and face covered by a scarf. She added that the heat also takes a toll on her two young children, whom she brings to the site.

Last week, the municipal authorities stopped the water supply, and many people had to make a tortuous walk a kilometer away to fetch water from trolleys filled with buckets.

The poor and the homeless, who work or sleep outdoors, have been the worst affected by this climate. Many resort to makeshift measures, such as using tarpaulin and seeking shade near trees and parks, to lessen the impact of extreme heat.

"The number of heat wave days has increased. It is not just day temperature that we have to battle, but night temperatures have also been high," Hiralal Paswan, a rag picker, told DW.

Fruit seller in Delhi arraging his goods on boxes outside
Many still have to work outdoors in the heat to make ends meetImage: Murali Krishnan/DW

Campaigners for India's election struggle with heat, too

With temperatures spiking to 50 degrees Celsius, even candidates and party workers in India's ongoing election take a break from outdoor campaigning from noon to 3:00 p.m. amid the ongoing election campaign.

"When the sun is at its fiercest at this time, our door-to-door campaigning, where workers distribute pamphlets, paste stickers, and tell voters about party symbols, come to a brief halt," Raghu Jain, a political party activist, told DW.

"But it is only a temporary reprieve. There is heat stress on the body, and several workers have fallen ill due to sheer exhaustion," added Jain.

Measuring the impact of heat can be difficult, and estimates of the number of deaths attributed to scorching temperatures vary from a few hundred to a thousand a year.

Dense concentrations of buildings and paved surfaces amplify the temperatures, especially in areas with little tree cover or green space, creating heat islands where poor and minority neighborhoods often bear the brunt.

Experts point out that if current warming trends continued, wet bulb temperatures, a measure of heat and humidity indicating the point when the body can no longer cool itself, would be so high that people directly exposed for six hours or more would find it difficult to survive.

"A large proportion of our population is highly vulnerable to heat waves due to the possession of fewer household amenities as well literacy rates literacy and access to water and sanitation," Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, told DW.

Edited by: John Silk

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11