Do you think that heat waves are not a very severe issue? Do you think that the problem of heat waves can simply be solved by turning on the air conditioner? If your answer is ‘yes’, then by this logic, heat waves will never affect the elite who can afford coolers and air conditioners. And only the poor will be affected by them. In reality, the condition is not limited to personal cooling solutions. This article will help you get a true picture of the bad climatic conditions.
Heat waves are a direct consequence of human-induced climate change. The definition of a heatwave is provided by the IMD [Indian Meteorological Department]. It defines a heat wave as — ‘Qualitatively; heat wave is a condition of air temperature which becomes fatal to the human body when exposed. Quantitatively, it is defined based on the temperature thresholds over a region in terms of actual temperature or its departure from normal.’ In certain countries, it is defined in terms of the heat index based on temperature and humidity or based on the extreme percentile of the temperatures. Heatwave is considered if the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40 degrees Celsius or more for Plains and at least 30 degree Celsius or more for Hilly regions.
We saw temperatures around us rise above 40 degrees Celsius quite often. Disproportionate heat waves were experienced in India in 2022. Record-breaking temperatures were recorded in the months of March and April. March was said to be the hottest month in India in 122 years. March is not even counted as summer and it was still the hottest month. This pattern of record-breaking temperatures will re-occur every 3 years as opposed to 312 years earlier, according to a study conducted by the UK’s Met Office.
The direct effects of heat waves are heat strokes and fatalities. And the indirect effects are powerful enough to disrupt an economy. Have you ever noticed that a large part of our economy is based on heat-exposed activities? It’s now time to brainstorm on this fact. Agriculture deploys more than 50% of the Indian workforce as per a 2018 survey. Farming is one of the most physically demanding and laborious activities. Even at normal temperatures, farmers experience physical exhaustion. When the temperatures soar, it becomes extremely physically challenging for them to work in open fields under the scorching sun. The uncomfortable heat waves automatically reduce the efficiency and working hours of farmers. Farmers also become highly prone to falling ill; this leads to absenteeism from work. According to an estimation by the International Labour Organisation, the Agricultural sector in India will observe a rise from a 6% loss of working hours as in 1995 to a 9% loss in 2030. This loss is equivalent to losing 3.4 crore full-time jobs.
On the other hand, crop productivity decreases due to deleterious sun rays. Yields in India had on average decreased by 15% in 2022. If less yield is produced, it will mostly be retained for the home country’s consumption and the import-export market will be hit hard. Even if a tremendous economic effect is caused, a sensible leader would not export at the cost of hunger of its own population. When the economy is disrupted, the country cannot afford to import the necessary produce. So heat waves can eventually lead to food insecurity and malnutrition problems.
Real estate is another employment-intensive sector: labour forms the backbone of the real estate economy. These workers slog day and night on construction sites. Scorching heat directly affects their productivity. A worker who would have completed ‘X’ amount of work in an hour will, after being inflicted by heat waves take much longer to complete the same amount of work. Not only does their work slow down, but also the completion of the project slows down, revenue generation slows down and ultimately the economy slows down. Labour productivity has seen a considerable dip because of heat waves, leading to an impact on the economy.
When room temperatures are high, we consume more electricity by using more fans, coolers, fridges and air conditioners with increased energy input for a better cooling output. The high electricity demand pressurises the energy sector; this leads to a shortage of energy. This further leads to frequent power cuts. As we know, almost everything is sourced by power, from computers, tablets and smartphones to giant industrial machines. Power cuts disrupt work across all industries, leading to hampered productivity of work. Demands do not decrease due to power cuts but supplies definitely do. Less work generates less revenue and the economy is affected.
According to Climate Transparency Report 2022, heat waves have resulted in a loss of 167 billion potential labour hours. That’s a lot for the economy to lose.
One thing is clear. Everyone is at the receiving end of heat waves. The ones on the lower economic strata are directly affected. And the ones on the higher economic strata have effects on their pockets. The economic effects of heat waves do not spare anyone. We all need to act on climate change collectively. Because the above-mentioned effects are still relatively in the beginning stage. The time is not too far when these heat waves will exhaust the human survivability limit.