As Climate Change Makes Heatwaves More Extreme, Who Faces The Brunt Of It?

Climate change does not impact everyone equally. Women, poor and marginalised communities are the ones who are most affected by different climate hazards

Suresh K Pandey/Outlook
A woman holding umbrella in her hand to protect herself and her child from the heat Photo: Suresh K Pandey/Outlook

India continues to reel under a severe heatwave, with temperatures crossing 50 degree celsius in several areas week after week. On Monday, Delhi witnessed its eighth heatwave day in a row and the 35th day since the maximum temperature last went below 40 degrees celsius. 

In fact, the country’s mammoth election exercise – Lok Sabha election 2024 – was conducted amid such severe weather conditions. At least 20 people were reported dead due to “sun stroke” between May 31 and June 2 in Odisha, according to the state’s disaster management agency. Another 24 people died across the capital territory of Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand and the western state of Rajasthan since May 24, local officials told PTI.

An analysis by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative published this month found that climate change made the current extreme temperatures in India 45 times more likely than without climate change. Not just India, climate change made the likelihood of such a heatwave occurring across south Asia 0.85 degrees Celsius hotter than it would otherwise be, their report found.

Who is the most affected 

Climate crisis does not impact everyone equally. 

Pregnant women, newborns, children, adolescents, older people, the poor and marginalised communities are the ones who are most affected by different climate hazards, including wildfires, flooding and extreme heat, according to the World Health Organisation. Moreover, studies have shown that women exhibit a heightened susceptibility to extreme temperatures, specifically heat, as compared to men.

For example, a report from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) in 2021 found that 75 per cent of Indian districts are vulnerable to disasters like floods, droughts and cyclones. In the same year, the National Family Health Survey data showed that over half of the women and children living in these districts were at risk. Studies have also shown that rising temperatures have been linked to a higher incidence of stillbirth and premature births in India.

At least 80 per cent of rural women in India earn their livelihood from agriculture. They brave extreme temperatures and work on their fields all day, most of the time without adequate supply of drinking water and toilets nearby. A study conducted in 2016 found that many women didn't want to squat in an open field to relieve themselves and so would avoid drinking water, developing urinary problems as a result. 

Are governments addressing climate change

India elected its 18th Lok Sabha recently. PM Narendra Modi came to power for the third time, albeit with his BJP winning fewer seats than the last two terms. While both the BJP and the main opposition party Congress mentioned climate crisis in their manifestos, as Outlook has reported before, none of the two parties have highlighted climate change as an issue upfront on their documents of intent.

Meanwhile, across the other side of the world, many of the 195 countries that negotiated the Paris accord in 2015, have since then strengthened pledge to curb emissions and support countries facing the brunt of extreme weather events, during the annual UN climate conferences known as the Conference of the Parties (COP). However, leaders of the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters - United States and China - were absent from last year’s COP28 summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, raising concerns about their climate commitments.