Record temperatures hit India's farmers
Large parts of India have been hit by an early heat wave, threatening the country's wheat harvest. The global wheat market is already under pressure because of the war in Ukraine. This will likely make things worse.
Air conditioners and blocks of ice
India is currently experiencing an exceptional heat wave. Rajgarh, a city of 1.5 million people in central India topped out at 46.5 degrees C (116 degrees F) while thermometers in nine other cities also climbed above the 45 degree mark. No wonder that anything to fight the heat is an easy sell on the streets of New Delhi.
Heat sets garbage on fire
The extremely high temperatures have even ignited a huge garbage dump in India's capital New Delhi. Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College in London, notes that such heat waves used to occur about once every 50 years before man-made climate change. Now they occur about once every four years.
The elderly and the poor at risk
According to a 2021 report in The Lancet, India's vulnerability to extreme heat increased by 15% from 1990 to 2019. It is among the top five countries where vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the poor, are most exposed to the dangers of heat waves. Along with Brazil, India has the highest heat-related mortality in the world.
Heat — a serious threat to health
Medical experts are seeing an increased incidence of heat-related illnesses and believe that the high temperatures are a greater threat than an expected fourth wave of COVID-19. But the crisis also brings out solidarity in people. This Calcutta resident is distributing cool water to passersby.
The extreme heat threatens the wheat harvest
Indian farmers are worried about their harvest — not so much because of the current record temperatures but because this March was overall the hottest March since temperature records began in 1901. Wheat grains usually ripen around that month and that's when they are particularly sensitive to heat.
The harvest shrinks before the eyes of farmers
Baldev Singh from Sangrur saw his crop shrink before his eyes as winter did not turn into a cool spring as usual but into unrelenting summer heat. The farmer from Punjab — the state known as India's breadbasket — lost about a fifth of his yield. Other farmers were hit even harder.
Wheat exports in danger
India, the world's second largest producer of wheat, traditionally exports little of it. Faced with shortages due to the Ukraine war, India planned to tap new markets and benefit from increased world prices. But going ahead with this would now create "a lot of pressure on the domestic availability of wheat," says Devinder Sharma, a Chandigarh-based agricultural expert.