Death Toll Rises Amid Sweltering Heat Wave in 2 of India's Most Populous States

BALLIA, India (AP) — Nearly 170 people have died in two of India’s most populous states in recent days amid a sweltering heat wave, officials said Monday, as hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and routine power outages add to the challenges.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, 119 people have died from heat-related illnesses over the last several days while in neighboring Bihar state 47 people have died, according to local news reports and health officials.

The largest hospital in Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh is unable to accommodate more patients, officials said, and its morgue was overwhelmed after 54 people died due to the heat. Some families were asked to take the bodies of their relatives home.

While northern regions of India are known for sweltering heat during the summer months, temperatures have been consistently above normal, according to the Indian Meteorological Department, with highs in recent days reaching 43.5 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit). A heat wave is declared in India if temperatures are at least 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal or if the temperature is above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

“We have been issuing heat wave warnings for the past few days,” said Atul Kumar Singh, a scientist at the IMD.

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Despite the warnings, government officials did not ask people to brace for the heat until Sunday, when the death toll began to increase.

Adding to the heat stress are consistent power outages across the region, leaving people with no running water, fans or air conditioners.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the government was taking measures to ensure an uninterrupted power supply in the state. He urged citizens to cooperate with the government and use electricity judiciously.

“Every village and every city should receive adequate power supply during this scorching heat. If any faults occur, they should be promptly addressed,” he said Friday night in a statement.

Inside Ballia district hospital, the chaotic scenes were reminiscent of the coronavirus pandemic, with families and doctors scrambling even as many patients required urgent medical attention. The corridors smelled of urine, garbage and medical waste, and hospital walls were stained with betel leaf spit.

“All our staff has been here for three days straight and are completely overworked,” said Dr. Aditya Singh, an emergency medical officer.

The wards in the hospital had no functioning air conditioners, and cooling units that were installed were not working properly due to power fluctuations. Attendants were fanning patients with books and wiping their sweat in an attempt to keep them cool.

Officials in the district hospital say more severe cases are now being shifted to hospitals in bigger cities nearby such as Varanasi and more doctors and medical resources are being sent to the district hospital to deal with the heat-induced crisis.

Outside, Ballia residents told the AP they were scared of going outside after midmorning.

“So many people are dying from the heat that we are not getting a minute’s time to rest. On Sunday, I carried 26 dead bodies,” Jitendra Kumar Yadav, a hearse driver in Deoria town, 110 kilometers (68 miles) from Ballia, told the AP.

Climate experts say that heat waves will continue and India needs to prepare better to deal with their consequences. A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that examines the source of extreme heat, found that a searing heat wave in April that struck parts of South Asia was made at least 30 times more likely by climate change.

“Plans for dealing with heatwaves are essential for minimizing their effects and preserving lives. These plans include all-inclusive approaches to dealing with high heat occurrences, such as public awareness campaigns, the provision of cooling centers, and healthcare assistance,” said Aditya Valiathan Pillai, an associate fellow at a New Delhi-based think-tank, Centre for Policy Research.

Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee contributed to this story from Lucknow, India. Associated Press writer Indrajit Singh contributed to this story from Patna, India. Arasu reported from Bengaluru, India.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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