ResearchED: How Extreme Heat Will Affect Different Sectors Of Indian Economy

ED Times
4 min readMar 30, 2023

By Pragya Damani

We are ideally in the midst of the spring season in India and though it is supposed to be sunny and cool, heatwaves have been recorded in February.

In fact, ever since proper records began to be maintained in 1901, India has recorded its warmest February with the average temperature being 29.5 °C across the country. The sudden change in temperature and the extreme heat is baffling when January experienced two spells of cold waves.

One can assume that the coming months are going to be extremely difficult for the country, especially for that demographic of people who do not have the privilege of working indoors and somehow saving themselves from the heat.

What Are Heat Waves?

When a system of high atmospheric pressure sweeps into a region and lasts for two days or longer, it causes a heatwave. Air from higher elevations of our atmosphere is drawn towards the ground in such a high-pressure system, where it is compressed and heated.

Heatwaves are not particularly a season, it is calculated daily.

For example, the average temperature of Mumbai in February is 31°C but this year it went up to 37°C.

How Do Heatwaves Impact India?

India is a developing country where 75% of the population earns its living by labouring. If the heat continually increases, it will pass the human survivability limit and lead to a decrease in productivity. The decrease in labour productivity will in turn affect 4.5% of GDP (which roughly amounts to $126 billion).

Extreme Heat and the Indian Economy

With the exception of the Middle Eastern countries, it has been noted that cold countries like Norway, Germany, and Switzerland are one of the richest countries whereas African countries where the cold spells are almost non-existent are one of the poorest countries. This shows that there is a connection of heat and the economy.

In India, around 70 crore people are engaged in labour intensive jobs for their livelihood. Their work is connected to their physical capabilities.

Let us take a look at how different sectors of labour-inclusive jobs are affected:

1. Agriculture

Agriculture involves doing all the work outdoors. Wheat, which is a crop that is found in most households, starts getting harvested in April-May. The production of wheat in 2022 was estimated to be around 110 million tonnes but was reduced to 103 million tonnes due to heatwaves. This led to an increase in the price of wheat. Furthermore, the country could not export as much wheat as it had wanted to.

Thus, heatwaves lead to crop loss and crop damage which has a direct impact on inflation. The International Labour Organisation estimated a 9% productivity loss in the sector of agriculture by 2030.

2. Pharmaceuticals

India manufactures generic drugs for other countries but every year it loses 20% of medical equipment as they are temperature sensitive. Approximately 25% of vaccines are wasted as well. The lack of temperature maintenance in any division of transportation leads to wastage. Considering the waste, the country loses roughly $313 million.

3. Construction

The construction sector is one of the top employers in the country. Increased heat will force people to be unable to work. The International Labour Organisation again estimates a 9% loss of productivity in the construction sector as well. Loss of productivity will lead to delay in projects and that will incur losses.

As and when heat increases, there is an increase in demand in power and cooling. It has been assumed that by the year 2050, 50% of the generated power will be used just for cooling.

4. Electricity

Since the power needed in the country is primarily generated from coal, it is inevitable that for generating more power there will be a requirement for more coal. In the process of doing so, a huge amount of greenhouse gases will be emitted. The emission of greenhouse gases leads to an increase in global warming and heatwaves.

Can Something Be Done?

Yes. Fortunately, most problems have solutions. Here are the steps that can be taken to protect the country from heatwaves:

  • If you have the privilege to do so, avoid stepping out from 12 pm to 4 pm.
  • The government can build rooftops over benches and bus stops to provide some respite to the netizens.
  • The India Cooling Action Plan needs to be one of the priorities.
  • The effects of the urban heat islands can be reduced by maintaining rooftop gardens.

Heatwaves are becoming increasingly common. Do you have more ideas through which it can be controlled? Do let us know in the comment section.

Originally published at https://edtimes.in on March 30, 2023.

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