Unexplained deaths in India’s heatwave raise questions amid soaring temperatures

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In a severe heatwave that has hit the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India, at least 96 people have reportedly died from heat-aggravated conditions. Intriguingly, over half of these deaths have occurred in a single district, Ballia, prompting an investigation.

In an intensely hot spell across two of India’s most populous states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, a reported 96 individuals have succumbed to conditions exacerbated by the heat. Over the past few days, temperatures have soared to a scorching 45 °C (113 °F), with high humidity levels amplifying the discomfort.

The majority of the deaths in Uttar Pradesh (54) have been recorded in a single district, Ballia. This statistic has baffled officials, given that other areas have been equally subjected to the extreme temperatures. The state’s health minister, Brajesh Pathak, announced an investigation into the cause of the numerous fatalities in the district.

Adding to the mystery, the medical superintendent at the government hospital in Ballia, who prematurely attributed the deaths to the heatwave, was transferred. This action came after certain doctors indicated that the symptoms were not typically associated with heat-related conditions.

An expert team dispatched by the state government to Ballia suggested the deaths may have been caused by other factors, although they were not yet able to identify these possible elements. “These do not appear to be heatwave-related deaths because nearby districts facing similar conditions are not throwing up similar death figures. The initial symptoms were of chest pain mostly, which is not the first symptom for someone affected by a heatwave,” Dr. AK Singh, a member of the team, reported to NDTV news channel.

He speculated that contaminated water could be a potential cause. About 400 people remain hospitalized in Ballia, where video footage reveals crowded wards and overstretched staff. Additional beds and medical staff have been provided to manage the influx of patients exhibiting symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, and breathing difficulties.

The lack of adequate medical facilities in Ballia has drawn criticism from opposition parties, who accuse Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of negligence. Akhilesh Yadav, the leader of the Samajwadi party, blamed the state government for not warning the people about the heatwave and failing to build a single district hospital in the last six years.

As India grapples with this deadly heatwave, it’s also experiencing severe water shortages, affecting tens of millions of its 1.4 billion population.

On a contrasting note, the desert state of Rajasthan in India has been experiencing torrential rain, with villages, roads, and railway tracks submerged under water. This erratic weather pattern follows an exceptionally cool and wet April and an unusually balmy May, after February saw the highest temperatures since 1901.

In addition, the annual monsoon season started in Assam on June 10, affecting more than 34 000 people.

References:

1 India heatwave: 96 people dead reportedly from heat-aggravated conditions – The Guardian – June 19, 2023

Featured image credit: Prado

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