India facing perfect storm | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 29, 2020

Heatwave, water woes, locust invasion and coronavirus

India facing perfect storm

Bollywood stars and political leaders have urged Indians to wash their hands to protect against coronavirus but that's a pipe dream for slum-dwellers like Bala Devi, now sweltering through a summer heatwave.

The 44-year-old widow and her family of eight are among tens of millions of people facing months of torrid weather while stuck at home, in lockdown, without regular access to clean water to keep cool and wash.

"It is so hot the children keep asking for water to drink. How can I give them water for washing their hands when we don't have even enough water to drink?" Devi said at her cramped home in New Delhi.

Outside it is around 45 degrees Celsius but her one-bedroom tenement house has just an improvised ceiling fan to keep its occupants cool.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, water was in short supply for the 100 million people living in India's urban slums.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has listed water infrastructure as a key priority, promising to reach 145 million rural households by 2024.

But currently roughly a third of the country's 1.3 billion people cut back on washing and bathing during summer as taps run dry.

Last year the southern city of Chennai ran out of water entirely.

Heatwaves are increasing in frequency, and this week the mercury hit 50 Celsius in western Rajasthan state. Parts of Delhi recorded their hottest May temperatures in almost 20 years.

Heat stress has killed around 3,500 people around the country since 2015, according to government figures, while farmers have killed themselves because of droughts ravaging their crops.

Meanwhile India is facing another problem as massive swarms of desert locusts are destroying crops across western and central India, spearing into Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab now, after Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. Locust containment measures and sprinkling operations have been conducted in 303 locations spread over more than 47,000 hectares till Wednesday in 20 districts of Rajasthan, nine in Madhya Pradesh, two in Gujarat and one each in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, sources in the Agriculture Ministry said. The government is using specialised spraying machines and has set up 11 control rooms to coordinate the response.

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