As the scorching sun beat down on his fruit cart, Mohammad Ikrar dreaded another day of tossing out dozens of rotting mangoes and melons – a regular practice as India grappled with an unprecedented heatwave this month.
The 38-year-old does not own a refrigerator, meaning his fruit quickly spoils. By the end of the day, any leftover produce is usually only good to be fed to passing stray cows.
Since April, Ikrar said he has lost up to 3,000 rupees ($39) a week – nearly half of his average weekly earnings.
“This heat is torturous. But if I want to buy an AC (air conditioner) or fridge one day, I have to do this,” said Ikrar, wearing a full sleeve shirt and white headwrap to keep cool in the 44 degrees Celsius (111.2F) heat.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms in the New Delhi area early on Monday brought the scorching temperatures down to about 20C, with Mahesh Palawat, vice president of Skymet, a private weather forecasting agency saying in a social media post that the heatwave would not come back “anytime soon” in the region.
But temperatures are set to soar again to about 40C later in the week, according to India’s weather office.
Monday’s storm knocked out power in large parts of the capital city – a problem Ikrar has become accustomed to this summer.
At home, he and his family suffer hours-long power cuts day and night, rendering the ceiling fan useless in their one-room house in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi.
He sends all three of his children to a school fitted with air coolers for “respite” from the heat.
“I sweat all day, then sweat all night. There is no way to properly cool off. I haven’t experienced anything like this since I moved here eight years ago,” he said.
Ikrar provides a snapshot of the threat Indians face from a lack of access to cooling amid widespread blackouts.
Almost 323 million people across the country are at high risk from extreme heat and a lack of cooling equipment such as fans and refrigerators, found a report released last week by Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a UN-backed organisation.
People shop for an air conditioner inside an electronics store in Mumbai [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]
India topped a list of “critical” countries, also including China, Indonesia and Pakistan, which have the largest populations facing heat-related dangers ranging from immediate deaths from overheating to impacts on food security and incomes.
Temperatures in the New Delhi area soared above 49C (120F) in some regions in mid-May after India recorded its hottest March in 122 years and an unusually hot April.
Temperatures are expected to cool as monsoon rains arrive in June.
‘Worrying urban trends’
India’s electricity demand has hit a record high with a surge in the use of air conditioning triggering the worst power crisis in more than six years.
But, like Ikrar, not everyone can beat the heat.
Although nearly all households in India have access to electricity, only a fraction of its 1.4-billion population owns any cooling appliances, found SE4ALL.
A man sleeps under a bridge on a hot summer day in New Delhi [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]
As demand for cooling will soar in coming years, it will also add pressure to India’s over-stretched electricity systems and lead to a potential increase …….