Millions at risk from extreme heat

As the scorching sun beat down on his fruit cart, Mr Mohammad Ikrar dreaded another day of tossing out dozens of rotting mangoes and melons - a practice that's becoming common as India grapples with an unprecedented heatwave this month.

The 38-year-old does not own a refrigerator, so the fruits rot quickly and at the end of the day, they'd be good only to be fed to the cows.

"This heat is torturous but I have to keep going if I want to buy an air-conditioner or fridge some day," said Mr Ikrar, who was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and white headwrap to keep cool in the 44 deg C heat.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms in the New Delhi area early on Monday brought the scorching temperatures down to about 20 deg C. But temperatures are set to soar to about 40 deg C later in the week, according to India's weather office.

Monday's storm knocked out power in large parts of the national capital - a problem Mr Ikrar has become accustomed to this summer.

He and his family suffer from power cuts, which happen day and night, rendering the ceiling fan useless in their one-room house in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi.

Almost 323 million people across the country are at high risk from extreme heat and a lack of cooling equipment such as fans and refrigerators, according to a report released last week by Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a United Nations-backed organisation.

India topped a list of "critical" countries - which included China, Indonesia and Pakistan - with the largest populations facing heat-related dangers ranging from immediate deaths from overheating to impact on food security and incomes.

SE4ALL also found that although nearly all households in India have access to electricity, only a fraction of its 1.4-billion population owns cooling appliances.

As demand for cooling will soar in the coming years, it will also add pressure to India's over-stretched electricity systems and lead to a potential increase in planet-warming emissions, said Mr Brian Dean, head of energy efficiency and cooling at SE4ALL.

"This in turn exacerbates the risk of longer and more extreme heatwaves."

He urged the authorities to quickly implement the India Cooling Action Plan, which aims to cut cooling demand by up to 25 per cent by 2038 through measures including developing new cooling technology and designing buildings with natural airflow.

In India, government data shows at least 25 people have died from heat stroke since late March, the highest toll in the past five years.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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