Where technical solutions cannot be used, there are still administrative controls that can help, she adds – as frequent breaks for people working under heatwave conditions. The body has another protection mechanism – exhaustion – that tells you to rest when you get overheated, but workers may not always have the opportunity to stop working, she says. In such cases, Venugopal recommends that two people perform a work on rotation if it requires great effort or being outdoors.
But the challenge lies in getting buy-in across India’s many cottage and small industries. Until the government adopts strict mandates that require employers to protect their staff from extreme heat, individual companies can choose whether to adopt or ignore proposals from advisers like Venugopal.
It is also not only workers who need to be careful when wet bulb temperatures are high. Rising humidity and heat also raise night temperatures, affecting everyone. “When humidity rises, the temperature does not drop as fast at night,” says Steven Sherwood, a professor at the University of New South Wales’ Climate Change Research Center in Australia. When the sun goes down, infrared radiation dissipates some of the heat that is built up on Earth during the day. “When the humidity is higher, there is greater cloud cover, which acts as a blanket that prevents heat leakage,” he says.
At night, the body should recover after the day attack of heat, but because the nights get warmer, that recovery is hampered, Dutta says. When people talk about the effects of heat, they usually refer to its direct effects – such as heat exhaustion and strokes, which can be fatal or disabling – but these are only the tip of the iceberg, he says. “If the heat remains high at night, it affects the body’s homeostasis, its ability to regulate and maintain its internal body temperature.” Disrupted this, and your cellular and metabolic activities become disrupted, which can be a cause of illness and can even be fatal in itself. This is a major concern as only one estimated 8 percent of Indian households has access to air conditioning.
Analysis from the World Weather Attribution suggests that climate change has made deadly weather events in South Asia 30 times more likely than they used to be. In the pre-industrial age, extreme heat waves appeared once every 3,000 years. Now the probability is once every 100 years. Across India, an average of nine heat waves were recorded each year from 1980 to 1999. The average between 2000 and 2019 is almost tripling, with 23.
South Asia is also not the only area at risk. Potentially lethal mixtures of heat and moisture have been on the rise around the globe. Coastal towns on the Persian Gulf appear to be particularly susceptible to very high wet onion temperatures in the future, says Luke Harrington, senior researcher in climate science at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute. According to data from NASA, other countries will also experience more critical wet bulb temperatures in the future, including the United States. States like Arkansas, Missouri and even Iowa is in danger. And while some places may have more resources to deal with the problem, people outside of India may not be as adapted to deal with it.
We can not be sure that dangerous temperature thresholds will be exceeded more frequently around the world – but it is likely, says Sherwood. “At 3 to 4 degrees Celsius of global average warming, many places will experience more deadly wet onion temperatures, which will lead to more deaths,” he says, referring to the amount of warming the world is likely to experience in this century if not climate action is being taken. If this is the future that lies ahead of us, then how the rising heat in India – and how to deal with it – could be a lesson for what the rest of the world should expect.
For Lakshmanan, heat remains an immediate problem. He can not afford to let it affect his concentration, he says. If he is out of the mark by just half an inch while making his metal frames, all the material he uses is wasted and he is responsible. “There are machines to do my job now, so I need to be mindful of whatever conditions I work under,” he says. “But especially this summer it has been really hard. It has tested the limits of our endurance. ”