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New Delhi on high alert as parts of northern India scorched by extreme heat

Parts of New Delhi reported up to 47.1C on Friday.

An auto-rickshaw driver drinks water as he takes a break in New Delhi, India

Parts of north-west India are sweltering under scorching temperatures, with the capital New Delhi under a severe weather alert.

India’s weather department expects heatwave conditions to persist across the north for the next few days, and has put several states on high alert.

On Friday, parts of New Delhi reported up to 47.1C. The nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan also saw temperatures soar and are likely to stay high over the next few days, said Soma Sen Roy, a scientist at the India Meteorological Department.

Ms Roy cautioned people against going outdoors under the afternoon sun, recommended drinking lots of water and wearing loose-fitting clothes. She added that people who are especially vulnerable like the elderly should stay indoors.

A woman walks under an umbrella as protection from severe heat in New Delhi
A woman walks under an umbrella as protection from severe heat in New Delhi (AP Photo)

The extreme temperatures in northern India coincide with a six-week-long general election, with experts worried that the heatwave could increase health risks as people wait in long queues to cast their vote or candidates campaign aggressively in the outdoors. One minister fainted due to heat last month while addressing an election rally in Maharashtra state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as his main challenger, Rahul Gandhi of the opposition Congress Party, are expected to hold rallies in New Delhi later on Saturday, as the city heads to the polls on May 25.

Satish Kumar, a 57-year-old rickshaw driver in the capital, said his work was suffering because of the heat. “People are not coming outside, (markets) are nearly empty,” he said.

Pravin Kamath, a 28-year-old who runs a cart selling cold drinks, complained that it was so hot he could hardly stand being outdoors. “But I must work. What can I do? I am poor so I have to do it.”

An ice cream vendor and rickshaw pullers sleep as severe heat grips Lucknow in India
An ice cream vendor and rickshaw pullers sleep as severe heat grips Lucknow in India (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

The main summer months – April, May and June – are always hot in most parts of India before monsoon rains bring cooler temperatures. But the heat has become more intense in the past decade and is usually accompanied by severe water shortages, with tens of millions of India’s 1.4 billion people lacking running water.

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 Asia was made at least 45 times more likely in some parts of the continent by climate change.

Climate experts say extreme heat in South Asia during the pre-monsoon season is becoming more frequent and the study found that extreme temperatures are now about 0.85C hotter in the region because of climate change.

At least 28 heat-related deaths were reported in Bangladesh, as well as five in India in April. Surges in heat deaths have also been reported in Thailand and the Philippines this year, according to the study.

Extreme heat is fast becoming a public health crisis in India, with more than 150 people dying last year during heatwaves. The government estimates nearly 11,000 people have died during heatwaves this century, yet experts say such figures are likely a vast undercount.

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