Indian commuters shield themselves from the sun as temperatures reach 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) in Calcutta, India. (Photo by Piyal Adhikary/EPA)
VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.Despite cranking his car's air conditioner to full-blast, Sandeep Sarma struggles not to sweat each morning as he creeps along the 21 miles of traffic-clogged road to his office in the Indian city of Bangalore.And lately, as record-breaking temperatures blanket the country, Sarma has noticed something else: Even through the glass of his car window, the summer sun leaves his right arm burnt and red.
Compared to the 130 deaths from heatstroke and exposure that have been attributed to the week-long heat wave, Sarma's sunburn is a minor complaint. But with climate watchdogs reporting that Bangalore reached a record-breaking temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius), Sarma views his hot, slow commute as emblematic of the city and country's struggle to develop its infrastructure while coping with more frequent record-high temperatures."A lot of trees are being cut down on a regular basis as part of expansion for the city and there are thousands of vehicles being released onto the roads every month," said Sarma. "Pollution is getting worse, too, and couple that with the heat, it can be quite dangerous."
Last summer, when temperatures above 110F (43C) left at least 2,500 dead across India, Bangalore was spared the worst of the heat wave. Indeed, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka has been dubbed "the air-conditioned city" for the cooling rains that usually break its summer heat.But with the rain so far absent this year, the city's residents are struggling to cope, even as government officials say the city is not experiencing a heat wave.Last Tuesday, temperatures above 104F (40C) were recorded in parts of Bangalore by the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Center, a non-government organization that monitors weather and climate in the state. The Indian Meteorological Department denies that temperatures passed 104, the official threshold for a heatwave designation.
But for residents, the exact number is besides the point."I don't think it really matters whether they accept it or not," said Sarma. "Whether it's 39 or 40, in terms of numbers they may seem different. But for a city that was known as the Garden City of India and to have a cool climate, this is unacceptable — especially since it got this bad as a result of our actions."
On Monday, local media reported that two laborers in Bangalorewere crushed to death by a truck after deciding to sleep on the street rather than in their sweltering home.Even as a cooler weather system pushed temperatures down to just about 100F in some of the hottest parts of west Indian on Monday, officials and citizens across the country are struggling to prepare for the next surge of heat and prevent a potentially heavy death toll, as occurred last year.In the southern state of Telangana, state officials say the death toll from the heat wave stands as high as 66. The Telangana government on Monday launched a website to provide citizens with real-time information about the heat wave and temperature warnings based on 885 sensors installed throughout the state.Across the country, officials are warning residents to remain indoors during the hottest parts of the day and conserve water and power, in preparation for a possible repeat of last year's unusually long, hot summer.
Hrishikesh Halase, a Bangalore resident, said the city is struggling to adjust to the more regular heat. "Thirty-two to 36 Celsius [89-96F] was the hottest I had experienced here in the past," he said.Now, when he comes home to his top-floor apartment, "it feels like I'm entering a pre-heated oven. My floor, bed, water from the cold tap, and even the shampoo in the bottle is warm!"Sarma said he can't sleep in the heat and is considering buying an air conditioner — something once unheard of in Bangalore. With India's high-energy costs and overtaxed electrical grid, Sarma worries that the purchase would spike his electrical bills, but he's beginning to think it may be an inevitable expense."The summer seems to come sooner every year and lasts longer too," he said.
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