BHUBANESWAR (India) • More than 100 people are feared dead in India in an early summer heatwave which has forced schools to close and halted outdoor work, government officials said yesterday.
Across the country, about 330 million people - about a quarter of the population - are suffering from drought, the government said, as the country reels from severe water shortages and desperately poor farmers suffer crop losses.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Pakistan, which suffered its hottest spell in decades last year, plans to open 500 response centres to provide shelter and cold water to people if a heatwave warning is issued, a government official said.
India's hottest months are May and June, but some states have already registered temperatures in excess of 40 deg C , forcing the authorities to take emergency steps.
"We had never recorded such high temperatures in these months in more than 100 years," Mr P.K. Mohapatra, special relief commissioner in Odisha state, said.
India's meteorological department on Wednesday issued a heatwave warning for Odisha and two other states, with temperatures forecast to top 45 deg C in the coming days.
All schools in Odisha are closed until next week because of the heat, and 43 people are believed to have died from heat exposure, although an official said each of the deaths was being investigated.
As an emergency measure, Odisha has banned construction work during the hottest times of day.
Further north in a West Bengal city, protests have been held over water shortages. And in the southern Indian state of Telangana, 45 people have died from heat exposure, and another 17 in Andhra Pradesh, officials said.
Mr Y.K. Reddy, a director at the Indian meteorological department, said Telangana has recorded its highest April temperatures since at least 2006.
He said there were fears that the death toll could rise and his department was issuing heatwave warnings to advise people to stay indoors. Schools were shut last week two weeks ahead of the summer holidays.
Some small-scale businesses were already suffering, with many closing early due to the heat.
Politicians have come under fire for water wastage as they travel to drought-affected regions, with video footage on Tuesday of water tankers in Karnataka state spraying a dusty road ahead of the chief minister's arrival.
Pakistan, where the extreme heat killed more than 1,000 people during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan last year, has started gearing up to tackle any sudden rise in the number of patients who report heat-related illnesses.
"We have enough supplies and staff to meet the possible situation," said Mr Seemin Jamali, head of the accident and emergency department at Karachi's Jinnah Hospital.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE