Power cuts, forest fires in South Asia heatwave

Power cuts, forest fires in South Asia heatwave

Power cuts, forest fires in South Asia heatwave
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On Friday, power shortages added to the suffering of millions of people wilting in a heatwave throughout India and Pakistan, with experts blaming climate change for the early arrival of sweltering summer temperatures.

Hundreds of forest fires have erupted in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in recent weeks, devouring tinder-dry pine woods near Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s seat.

At this time of year, Himachal Pradesh usually experiences rain, hail, and even snow in higher places, but many districts have experienced no precipitation in two months, resulting in more and worse fires than usual.

“Teams of firefighters are working hard to put out these fires and also to save wild animals,” state forest chief Ajay Srivastava told AFP.

Power cuts in both India and Pakistan were partly blamed on shortages of coal after an unusually hot March and April pushed up power demand and ate up stockpiles.

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Over the past week, Pakistani cities have been cut off for up to eight hours a day, while in some rural areas people have power for only half of the day.

“There is a power crisis and load shedding taking place across the country,” said Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan, blaming fuel shortages and “technical faults”.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority warned of the potential for flash floods in northern areas, with the soaring temperatures likely to accelerate snow and ice melt.

In Lahore, Pakistan’s second city, families flocked to the canals to cool off.

“This is the only way to beat the heat, what else is there to do? It’s already so warm… what will happen later in summer?” said Abbas Ali, who was with his young son.

– One day of coal –

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In the teeming Indian megacity of New Delhi, which hit 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) on Friday, authorities said many power stations had “less than a day’s coal left”.

“The situation in entire India is dire,” said Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, warning of potential power cuts to hospitals and the city’s metro.

For the fourth day in a row, a fire at a landfill 60 metres (almost 200 feet) high in Delhi was still smouldering.

Due to coal shortages at power plants, Indian states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh have reduced electricity supplies to industrial sectors.

In an effort to avoid a full-blown crisis, India also cancelled certain passenger trains to allow for speedier coal movement at power facilities, according to Bloomberg News.

After a spate of episodes of heatstroke in recent days, drooping public transport commuters in Kolkata were given glucose water.

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“With no rain for over 57 days, Kolkata is in the grip of the longest dry spell of this millennium,” said Sanjit Bandyopadhyay from the Regional Meteorological Centre.

– Pink elixir –
Coming during the month of Ramadan, the heat makes fasting in India and Pakistan even tougher for Muslims who shun even water during daylight hours for the holy month.

When the sun sets, vendors are doing a roaring trade in Rooh Afza, a sugary pink drink that has been quenching thirst for generations across the subcontinent.

In India, authorities were closing schools or reducing hours, with Bihar ordering classes to stop by 10:45 am and advising people not to be outside after midday.

In the Bihar state capital Patna, heatstroke cases have jumped in the last 10 days and the number of children with fever, vomiting and diarrhoea has increased.

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“People have been staying inside their house in the day time. We are struggling to earn a livelihood,” said Rameshwar Paswan, a rickshaw puller.

Previously, such temperatures in April occurred only once every 50 years in India, but today they occur every four years, according to Mariam Zachariah of Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute.

“Until net emissions are halted, it will continue to become even more common,” she said.

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