The extraordinary heat wave in India and Pakistan, explained
South Asia’s heat wave is unusual because it’s happening much earlier in the season than normal, before summer weather typically sets in, so it caught people off guard. It also spread out over a much larger area, covering most of the landmass across Pakistan and India instead of concentrating in a few pockets.
The populations of India and Pakistan are especially vulnerable to extreme heat. About 60 percent of India’s workforce and about 40 percent of workers in Pakistan are in agriculture, where the bulk of labor is outdoors. Both countries are currently in their wheat harvest seasons, so millions of people are facing the difficult choice of working during dangerous weather or forgoing their livelihoods.
Better urban planning, planting trees, green spaces, improved water infrastructure, pollution controls, and more robust weather forecasting could all help ensure that fewer people suffer as temperatures rise. Switching to cleaner energy sources would also help mitigate the problem over the long term. But leaders in South Asia are more focused on recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, and some are facing political turmoil. Pakistan ousted its prime minister last month, and Sri Lanka’s prime minister resigned this week.
So at a national level, it’s difficult to get attention on the impacts of climate change and muster the resources needed to prevent it from getting worse. “I don’t think people are going to wake up, because political leaders are framing the issue to score political points,” Prakash said. Much of the action, then, has to happen at local levels, among mayors, governors, and local elected officials who can break down a global problem into its local stakes. “Political entrepreneurship is needed,” Prakash added.