Meteorologists warn the extreme heat gripping India and Pakistan is likely to have many cascading effects on human health, ecosystems, agriculture, water, energy, and the economy.
For the past few days, hundreds of millions of people have been sweltering under temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius in widespread areas of India and Pakistan. The intense heat is predicted to continue until May 2 and then subside.
The World Meteorological Organization says both India and Pakistan regularly experience excessively high temperatures in the pre-monsoon period, especially in May. While heatwaves do occur in April, it says they are less common.
WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis said national meteorological and hydrological departments in both countries are implementing measures that have been successful in saving lives in the past few years.
“A lot of work has been taken on heat health action plans specifically and in particular to protect the most vulnerable, and the most vulnerable in urban areas where the impact of the heat tends to be magnified,” she said. “So, we do hope that mortality from this ongoing event will be limited.”
Nullis said large swaths of Pakistan are experiencing daytime temperatures between five and eight degrees Celsius above normal for this time of year. She said the extreme heat will have a punishing impact on Pakistan’s mountainous regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The Pakistan Meteorological Department is warning that the unusual heat has the risk of speeding up the melting of snow and ice, and this might trigger what we call glacial lake outbursts, which lead to flash floods,” she said. “These are, obviously, very deadly hazards.”
Meteorologists say it is premature to attribute the extreme heat in India and Pakistan solely to climate change. However, they agree it is consistent with what is expected in a changing climate.
In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns heat waves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent in South Asia this century.