BHUBANESWAR, India, Nov 25, (RTRS): “This extreme heat we now see is no less than a sly thief,” said Murali Sahoo, a building painter in eastern India, as he washed his buckets and brushes at the end of another sweltering work day.
A decade ago, a week’s work painting could bring in 6,000 rupees ($84), the 43-year-old said. But over the last five years, increasingly blistering summer temperatures in his home state of Odisha means working all day is no longer possible, even if he starts at 7 am to get a jump on the heat.
“Today my weekly earnings have fallen to just 2,500 rupees ($35), a measly 350 rupees ($5) a day. How can a family survive on this?” asked Sahoo, the father of two boys.
As climate change brings ever-more-wilting heat in some of the world’s already hot spots, the future for outdoor workers like Sahoo may be bleak, scientists say. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at current rates, by 2100 Odisha will get as many as 48 extremely hot days every year, up from only 1.5 such days in 2010, warned the Climate Impact Lab (CIL), a nonprofit consortium of scientists, in a report released this month. The study’s researchers classified a day as extremely hot if the outside temperature reaches above 35ºC (95ºF).
The report, on heat deaths in India, was conducted in collaboration with the Tata Centre for Development at the University of Chicago and examined the human and economic costs of climate change and weather shocks in India. “Weather and climate shape India’s economy and society,” said Amir Jina, an environmental economist at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and one of the authors of the study.
“Temperature and precipitation affect diverse outcomes such as human health, labour productivity, agricultural yields, crime, and confl ict,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email.
The study projected that average summer temperatures in Odisha will go from about 29ºC (84ºF) in 2010 to over 32ºC (89ºF) by 2100. That would give Odisha the biggest jump in extremely hot days of all of India’s 29 states. The national average increase will be from 24ºC to about 28ºC, researchers said.
Meteorologists point to the state’s location, its geographical features — such as its 480-km-long (290-mile-long) coastline — and the rise of concrete buildings and asphalt roads in its towns as reasons it can become particularly hot and humid. As temperatures soar, the study said, Odisha’s economy will suffer as people find it increasingly difficult to work.
No one has yet calculated what rising heat might do to the state’s productivity, Jina said. The Climate Impact Lab plans to provide those projections in a later study. But a report released by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) in July predicted that, by 2030, India as a whole could lose nearly 6% of working hours to heat stress. That would be the equivalent of 34 million full-time jobs, the ILO said. Extreme heat also can be deadly, health experts warn.
Ambarish Dutta, an Odisha expert at the Indian Institute of Public Health in the state’s capital Bhubaneswar, said in Odisha the “killing effect” kicks in when the ambient temperature reaches over 36.5ºC (98ºF). In the decade up to 2017, a total of 630 people died as a result of heat waves in Odisha, a state where nearly three-quarters of the working population is in the informal labour sector, most of them working outdoors, according to government data.
But by the end of the century, the heat-related death toll could reach as high as 42,000 per year in Odisha, the CIL study predicted. Income inequality is partly to blame for the state’s vulnerability to the rising heat, said Jina, the environmental economist. On average, a person in India starts investing heavily in cooling technologies such as air-conditioning once they make at least 983,000 rupees ($13,700) a year, noted another Tata Centre for Development study published last month.