In early June 2019, an intense heatwave scorched northern India. Some regions experienced temperatures surpassing 45°C for the better part of three weeks. On June 10, Delhi reached its hottest day on record for the month, reaching 48°C.
May and June are generally some of the hottest months for India and especially for northern part of the country, but the number of heatwaves—especially during May—has been increasing, according to the Ministry of Earth Sciences. Eleven of India’s 15 warmest years have occurred since 2004. 2018 was the sixth-warmest year for the country since record-keeping started in 1901.
This year’s sparse rainfall during the pre-monsoon season along with a delayed monsoon, have made the heat more unbearable. Arrival of Monsoon has been delayed this year and which has further worsened the condition in northern parts of the country. According to some experts, unpredictability of weather and Monsoon will be a new norm and it’s the price one has pay for the climate change.
Heatwaves and unbearably hot summers have their impact on Indian cities too turning many of the spots in the cities into urban heat island. Over the past many years, several Indian cities are under severe stress owing to such extreme anomalous changes in their micro-meteorological conditions making them unfriendly for habitation. Study of land surface temperature in various cities and its relationship with vegetation cover indicate that overexploitation of various resources demanded by a fast growing population has led to significant changes in land use and land cover patterns in the last few years.
We need to take seriously some warnings by the experts that large Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai – are adding significantly to the climate issues around those areas. The heat index that these cities have due to concrete structures, population and pollution also impacts the smaller towns and areas nearby.
The phenomenon of urban heat islands is the direct consequence of urbanisation. Like many other cities in developing countries, Delhi and Mumbai have more than doubled in size and population in the past 25 years as rural migrants have flooded in. In other major cities too population has increased tremendously and this trend is going to increase in the coming years due to urbanisation. In other words, the problem of urban heat islands is going to become intense in the coming years and it is also likely to spread to many other cities.
A research study conducted by two IITians on microclimate of city of Varanasi exposed that the central portion of Varanasi displayed the highest surface temperature compared to the surrounding open area, the areas having dense built-up displayed higher temperatures, and the areas covered by vegetation and water bodies exhibited lower temperatures. This study also showed that urban green space will help to mitigate the urban microclimate and it is important for the sustainable development of urban environments as well as to provide healthy quality of life to the urban dwellers.
Similar studies have been conducted in various other cities too and research material is available in abundance from various institutes across the globe. In other words, we know the reason and impact and what is now needed is the action from the concerned people. Unplanned and haphazard growth has been the bane of our cities for which we, the citizens, have been paying heavy prices and its unfortunate that we haven’t leant any lessons from our past mistakes. Such mistakes have been repeated with precise regularity. In our zeal to create smart cities we should not ignore liveability factor of the cities. If we do not act now, our future generation would be struggling to survive in these cities let alone leading a decent life.