Heatwaves in hills cause concern as locals bear the brunt

Chandigarh recorded a maximum of 45 degrees Celsius, highest in over 22 years

Heatwave A man splashes water on his face on a hot summer day amid heatwave in Gurugram | PTI

Even as the northern plains and central India scorch with prolonged heatwaves, the Himalayan states such as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir are also witnessing record-breaking temperatures this year. 

While parts of Garhwal and Kumaon regions in Uttarakhand are experiencing severe heatwave conditions, Kangra, Una, Mandi, Kullu, Shimla, Solan, Hamirpur, Chamba, Sirmaur and Bilaspur observed unprecedented rise in temperatures. Chandigarh recorded a maximum of 45 degrees Celsius, highest in over 22 years whereas Dehradun saw its all-time high for the month of May at 43.9 degrees Celsius. 

Data from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that with summer season still going on, the country has already seen its most intense heatwave ever, at least in the last 15 years, for which similar data is available. Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and J&K witnessed heatwaves for the first time. As per the IMD data, the number of heatwave days in Himachal Pradesh this season were 12 till June 9 and six in J&K. Uttarakhand observed two days of heatwave. 

A hilly region is said to be experiencing heatwave when the maximum temperature is over 30 degrees Celsius, with 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal for two consecutive days. The readings must be recorded at least two monitoring stations. For plains and coastal areas this threshold is 40 and 37 degrees Celsius respectively.  

“The unprecedented rise in temperatures in India’s hill states has broken all records this year, posing severe implications for both humans and the environment. This rapid heatwave is a matter of serious concern and requires urgent, long-term technical and policy solutions,” says Dr Mashhood Alam, Project Lead at National CSR Network.  

As the plains across hilly areas experience severe heatwaves, the local people, who are used to typically cooler climates, are finding it extremely difficult to cope with daytime temperatures rising significantly above the normal range. Says 62-year-old Hariram Bhatt, a grocery store owner in Uttarakhand’s Nata Dol village, 50 kilometres uphill from Bhimtal, “In my entire life, this is the first time that I have experienced so much heat during day time. In no season the mercury would cross 30 degrees Celsius in our village but this time it did. We are not used to this.” 

Sanjeev Kumar, a resident of Shimla, voiced similar concerns. “It is exceptionally hot this time. This is the first time that the air feels warm even if we go 10-15 kilometres uphill from urbanised areas like Shimla,” says Sanjeev Kumar, a resident of Shimla. 

The locals who stay in tourist places become particularly vulnerable as people from the plains make a beeline for the hill stations to seek relief from the sweltering heat. “The rush makes it all the more difficult for us,” Kumar adds. 

Calling for immediate action on this climate-induced heatwave, Dr Mashhood urges, “As mitigating measures, a multi-dimensional approach is needed that includes robust early warning systems, healthcare, infrastructure and public awareness to tackle this growing threat of prolonged heatwave, especially in hilly areas, before its too late.” 

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