As Heat Wave Claims 300 lives, Daytime Cooking Banned in Some Parts of India

Officials in India have banned daytime cooking in some parts of the drought-stricken country in a bid to prevent accidental fires that have killed nearly 80 people even as the sizzling temperatures have claimed more than 300 lives this month in India.

After accidental fires exacerbated by dry, hot and windy weather swept through shantytowns and thatched-roof houses in villages and killed 79 people, the eastern state of Bihar this week took the unprecedented step of forbidding any cooking between 9am and 6pm. The dead included 10 children and five adults killed in a fire sparked during a Hindu prayer ceremony in Bihar’s Aurangabad district last week.

People were instead told to cook to night.

Officials have also banned the burning of spent crops and religious fire rituals in the hope of preventing more fires. Anyone defying the ban runs the risk of imprisonment of up to a year.

“We call this the fire season in Bihar. Strong, westerly winds stoke fires which spread easily and cause great damage,” Vyas, a state disaster management official who goes by one name, said.

Severe drought conditions that have decimated crops, killed livestock and left at least 330 million Indians without enough water for their daily needs have affected much of India which is reeling under a weeks-long heat wave.

Overall officials say that groundwater reservoirs are at just 22 percent capacity as rivers, lakes and dams have dried up in parts of the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The government has sent tankers of water for emergency relief in some areas where the situation is extremely bad. Monsoon rains are still weeks away, expected to start only in June.

Temperatures in many parts of the country since the start of April have been hovering around 44C and this heat wave conditions have resulted in the death of at least 300 people who have died of heat-related illness this month.

The average summer temperatures this year is about 4-5C hotter than normal for April, according to state meteorological official YK Reddy. May, traditionally the hottest month in India would see further worsening of conditions, he said.

As on TV and in newspapers are being run in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh urging people to stay indoors during the hottest hours. When the sun is directly overhead, construction and farm laborers are advised to seek shade.

Often leaving elderly and young relatives behind in parched villages, huge numbers of farmers, meanwhile, have migrated to nearby cities and towns in search of manual labor.

After some 2,500 people died in scorching temperatures last year, this is the second consecutive year southern India has suffered from a deadly heat wave. Authorities have done little to ensure water security or prepare urban populations for the risks even though heat waves are common during Indian summers.

A heat wave program to educate people on how to stay cool, provide shelters and train medical workers on dealing with heat-related illnesses like sun stroke and dehydration was launched in the state of Orissa’s capital – Bhubaneshwar, Maharashtra state’s city of Nagpur and Gujarat state’s  Ahmedabad this year. But most other cities and states lack such programs.

(Adapted from The Guardian)

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