Intensifying Heat Waves: Faltering GDP & Rising Miseries!

There is 30 times greater probability of such events occurring than they would have without climate change. While intensified and sustained heatwave impacts the complete development spectrum, it hits the poorly endowed regions and the poor, the deprived and the vulnerable sections of population hard.

Conceptual and Methodological Framework

The heatwave in India, as in other parts of the world, means different things to different people much like the blind men and the elephant. A heat wave is defined differently based on the geographical region. According to the IMD, in the plains, a heat wave is characterised by maximum temperatures reaching up to 40°C or more, while in coastal areas, it is when maximum temperatures reach 37°C or higher. In hilly regions, the threshold is set at 30°C or higher. Heat wave conditions in India are typically experienced between March and July, with acute heat waves occurring mostly between April to June.

Global Perspective

IPCC’s Working Group I examined huge heatwave and extremely anomalous temperatures in India from March 2022 to April 2022. The Group chillingly found 30 times greater probability of such events occurring than they would have without climate change. While intensified and sustained heatwave impacts the complete development spectrum, it hits the poorly endowed regions and the poor, the deprived and the vulnerable sections of population hard.

According to the Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the observed effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs) include:

  1. The global average surface temperature has increased by approximately 0.65°C over the last 50 years.
  2. Eleven of the last 12 years (1995–2006) rank among the 12 warmest years since records began in the 1850s.
  3. The rates of warming and of sea level rise have accelerated in recent decades.
  4. Many areas, particularly mid- to high-latitude countries, have experienced increases in precipitation and there has been a general increase in the frequency of extreme rainfall.
  5. In some regions, such as parts of Asia and Africa, the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased in recent decades.
  6. The frequency of the most intense tropical cyclones has increased in some areas, such as the North Atlantic, since the 1970s.

The IPCC has made the following terrifying projections for the next century:

  1. Global mean surface temperature will rise by 1.1–6.4° C, depending partly on future trends in energy use. Warming will be greatest over land areas and at high latitudes.
  2. Heat waves, heavy precipitation events, and other extreme events will become more frequent and intense.
  3. Sea level rise is expected to continue at an accelerating rate.

Indian Scenario

Historically Indian agriculture has always been subject to the vagaries of the monsoon and agriculture in India has often been called “a gamble in monsoon”. With improved irrigation (e.g., drip, sprinkler irrigation), high yielding variety (HYV) seeds and fertilisers, the impact of monsoon on agriculture has reduced.

The Indian economy is adversely effected by damaged human and animal health, reduced crop yields, droughts, increased pest and disease pressure and soil degradation. Heat waves also lower production of animal fodder and reduce animal productivity, raise milk prices and hurt power grids. Similarly, poultry and fishery are also affected by deteriorating air quality and rising climate change. Such aspects necessitate effective measures to combat heatwaves and their consequences.

RBI’ Assessment- Macroeconomic Impact and on different regions

According to the RBI’s latest Report of the Department of Economic and Policy Research (DEPR), climate change stemming from rising temperature and transforming patterns of monsoon rainfall in India could cost the Indian economy 2.8% of its GDP and depress the living standards of nearly half of its population by 2050. The Report’s scary findings highlighted that India witnessed a record heatwave that greatly affected workers, labour migrants, low-income household. Similarly, a recent report of Climate Transparency brought out that India suffered an income loss of 5.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the highest among the G20 nations in 2021.

Impact of Heatwave

A basic cause of heatwave in India is global warming, which leads to long-term increase in Earth’s average temperature due to human activities, viz., burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial activities. Heat wave affected vast regions of the country, including Bihar, Jharkhand, Gangetic West Bengal, Odisha, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh & Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.

India’s Heat Action Plans (HAPs)- Pathway to the Future

India’s Heat Action Plans (HAPs) have not been fully effective because of differential implementation and impact across regions and sectors. This is contextually significant because a March 2023 assessment of current HAPs in India starkly reveals a lack of consideration for local context, inadequate funding, and poor targeting of vulnerable groups. Accordingly, the roadmap ahead must prepare hospitals for all eventualities, closer coordination to access to hydration and cool places, suitable housing, well-conceived heat plans, scientific forecasts, prevention of extensive misery and mid-course correction, wherever needed. Difficult but doable.


Vipin Malik, Chairman, Infomerics Ratings, served on Boards of Reserve Bank of India and Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Private Limited, Canara Bank, J&K Bank, etc. Author of several well-received books and several articles. He appears often on television debates on economy issues.


Dr. Manoranjan Sharma is Chief Economist, Infomerics, India. With a brilliant academic record, he has over 250 publications and six books. His views have been cited in the Associated Press, New York; Dow Jones, New York; International Herald Tribune, New York; Wall Street Journal, New York.


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