Heatwave hits India and Pakistan as power plants struggle to secure coal supply

Power outages are adding to the misery of millions of people blighted by a heat wave across India and Pakistan on Friday, with experts blaming climate change for the early onset of scorching summer temperatures.

In the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, hundreds of wildfires have broken out in recent weeks, devouring dry pine forests, especially around Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama.

Himachal Pradesh normally sees rain, hail and even snow in higher areas at this time of year, but many areas have seen no rainfall in two months, prompting more fires and larger than normal.

“Fire crews are working hard to put out these fires and also to save wild animals,” said state forestry chief Ajay Srivastava.

Power cuts in India and Pakistan were partly blamed on coal shortages after unusually hot March and April pushed up power demand and consumed inventory.

Over the past week, cities in Pakistan have been cut off for up to eight hours a day, while in some rural areas people only have electricity for half the day.

“There is a power crisis and power outages across the country,” Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said, blaming fuel shortages and “technical breakdowns”.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority has warned of the risk of flash floods in northern regions, as soaring temperatures could accelerate the melting of snow and ice.

In Lahore, Pakistan’s second city, families flocked to the canals to cool off.

Coal in short supply

In India’s teeming megacity of New Delhi – which hit 43 degrees Celsius on Friday – authorities said many power stations had “less than a day’s worth of coal”.

“The situation across India is dire,” said Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, as he warned of possible power cuts to hospitals and the city’s metro.

The landfill, which covers an area more than 50 football pitches, with a heap taller than a 17-storey building, caught fire on Tuesday night, turning into a smoldering heap that blazed through Friday.(PA: Manish Swarup)

For a fourth day, a fire in a Delhi landfill 60 meters high was still smoldering on Friday.

Several Indian states – including Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh – have cut power to industrial areas due to coal shortages at power plants.

In a bid to avert a widespread crisis, India has also canceled some passenger trains to allow faster delivery of coal to power stations, Bloomberg News reported.

In Kolkata, drooping public transport passengers were given glucose water after a series of heatstroke cases in recent days.

“Without rain for more than 57 days, Kolkata is in the grip of the longest drought in this millennium,” said Sanjit Bandyopadhyay from the Regional Meteorological Center.

Ramadan fasting aggravates hardship

During the month of Ramadan, the heat makes fasting in India and Pakistan even more difficult for Muslims, who even avoid water during the day during the holy month.

When the sun goes down, vendors do a roaring trade in Rooh Afza, a sweet pink drink that has quenched thirst for generations across the subcontinent.

People, some dressed in white cloth, others shirtless, swim or wade in shallow dark waters with dark sand and stones
The heat has pushed many Karachi residents to canals like these people cooling off at China Creek.(Reuters: Akhtar Soomro)

Across India, authorities were closing schools or reducing hours, with Bihar ordering classes to end at 10.45 a.m. and advising people not to go out after noon.

In Bihar’s state capital, Patna, cases of heatstroke have soared in the past 10 days, with an increase in the number of children suffering from fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

“People have stayed inside their homes since [the] the time of day. We struggle to earn a living,” said Rameshwar Paswan, a rickshaw puller.

India previously only experienced such high temperatures in April once every 50 years, but now they come every four years, said Mariam Zachariah of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

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