NOIDA, India (Reuters) – Life on a construction site on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi is hard enough for construction worker Yogendra Tundre. This year, record temperatures make it unbearable.
As India grapples with an unprecedented heatwave, the vast majority of the country’s poor workers, who generally work outdoors, are exposed to the scorching temperatures.
“It’s too hot and when we’re not working, what are we going to eat? We work for a few days and then sit idle for a few days due to fatigue and heat,” Tundre said.
Temperatures in the New Delhi area have reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this year, often resulting in Tundre and his wife Lata, who works at the same construction site, getting sick. This in turn means they lose income.
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“Sometimes I don’t go to work because of the heat. I take days off… I often get sick from dehydration and then I need glucose bottles (intravenous fluids),” Lata said while standing in front of her home, a temporary tin-roofed shack.
Scientists have linked the early start of an intense summer to climate change, saying more than a billion people in India and neighboring Pakistan were in some way at risk from the extreme heat.
India experienced its hottest March in more than 100 years and parts of the country experienced the highest temperatures on record in April.
Temperatures rose to over 40 degrees Celsius in many places, including New Delhi. More than two dozen people have died from suspected heatstroke since late March, and electricity demand has hit a multi-year high.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged state governments to come up with measures to mitigate the effects of the extreme heat.
Tundre and Lata live with their two young children in a slum near the construction site in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi. They moved from their home state of Chhattisgarh in central India to seek work and higher wages in the capital.
At the construction site, workers scale walls, pour concrete and carry heavy loads, wearing torn scarves around their heads to protect themselves from the sun.
But even when the couple finish work, they hardly have a rest as their home is hot and they have been absorbing the sun’s heat all day.
Avikal Somvanshi, an urban environment researcher at India’s Center for Science and Environment, said federal government data showed that heat stress after lightning strikes was the leading cause of death from natural disasters over the past twenty years.
“Most of these deaths occur in males between the ages of 30 and 45. These are working-class workers who have no choice but to work in the scorching heat,” Somvanshi said.
Unlike some Middle Eastern countries, India has no laws banning outdoor activities when temperatures exceed a certain level, Somvanshi said.
(Reporting by Sunil Kataria in New Delhi; Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Neil Fullick.)
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