According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the following week could witness thunderstorms and rain. But there has been no respite from the heat in several parts of North India with certain towns in Rajasthan recording a maximum of over 47 degrees Celsius, even as the Met department predicted the onset of the southwest monsoon over Kerala during the next few days.
Even isolated places over Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat have not been spared of heat-wave conditions. Those most affected are the millions of outdoor workers, who will find it increasingly difficult to earn their living as temperatures rise ever year. The impact on their health and productivity cannot be overstated.
In a significant report released by the United Nations Development Programme last month, it was observed that the "levels of heat in many tropical locations are already very high with respect to thermal tolerances even for acclimatised populations". Climatologists argue that summers are likely to get hotter across the world in the years to come.
The surge in temperatures has been partly attributed to climate change. Nonetheless, this surge is likely to have a detrimental impact on millions of working class people. “The lowest income-bracket work – heavy labour and low-skill agricultural and manufacturing jobs – are among the most susceptible to climate change,” the UNDP report said. With more than half of India’s population dependent on agriculture, these findings forebode hard times for the working class in the years to come.
After agriculture, it is manufacturing and the construction sector that employ the largest number of people in India. Working outdoors under the sun is a fact of life for many. Meanwhile, the millions who work indoors in factories are also affected as most of these establishments, especially in tropical countries, lack the requisite cooling systems.
Various studies have pointed to the detrimental effect the heat has on the productivity of industrial workers. "When physical activity is high in a hot working environment, a worker is at risk of increased core body temperature (above 38 degrees Celsius), diminished physical work capacity and mental task ability, increased risk of accidents and eventually heat exhaustion," according to research paper published a few years ago in Global Health Action, an international peer-reviewed open access journal.
Other renowned studies have gone on to detail the detrimental effect of rising temperatures on overall industrial output too. And then there are the millions, who work in the service industry. Many of them work in metropolitan areas that have witnessed a mushrooming of urban hotspots with temperatures five degrees Celsius above that of the surrounding countryside.
The challenges faced by governments both at the Centre and state are complex. Moreover, it is impossible for governments to avoid fatalities. For example, the Telangana government has ordered workers enrolled under MGNREGA to avoid the afternoon heat between noon and 3 pm. Despite such efforts, workers in the unorganised sector and farmers are bound to suffer. A large percentage of India’s population still survives on daily wages. Missing a day of work for them will mean losing out on much-needed pay.