Poor workers pushed by India’s heat wave

For construction worker Jogendra Tundra, life on a building site on the outskirts of the Indian capital, New Delhi, is difficult enough. Record high temperatures this year are making it unbearable.

As India struggles with an unprecedented heat wave, most of the country’s poor workers, who usually work outside, are at risk for scorching temperatures.

“There’s too much heat and if we don’t work, what do we eat? A few days, we work and then we sit idle for a few days because of fatigue and heat,” Tundre said.

Temperatures in the New Delhi area have reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this year, with Tundre and his wife Lata, who work on the same construction site, often falling ill. This means they lose income.

According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), relentless heat waves could cause temperatures north of 120 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of Delhi on Monday.

“Because of the heat, sometimes I don’t go to work. I take a few days off … a lot of the time, I get sick from dehydration and then take a bottle of glucose (liquid in a vein),” Lata said, standing outside their house in a makeshift hut. With a tin roof.

Scientists have linked the onset of an intense summer to climate change, saying more than a billion people in India and neighboring Pakistan are somehow at risk from extreme heat.

India has endured the warmest march in more than 100 years and some parts of the country experienced their highest temperature in April.

Temperatures were recorded above 40 degrees Celsius in many places, including New Delhi. More than two dozen people have died in suspected heatstroke since the end of March, and demand for electricity has reached a multi-year high.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on the state governments to take steps to mitigate the effects of the scorching heat.

Tundre and Lata live with their two young children in a slum near a construction site in Noida, a satellite city in New Delhi. They have moved from the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh around the capital in search of work and higher wages.

At construction sites, workers build walls, lay concrete and carry heavy loads, and use a scarf around their heads as protection from the sun.

But even when the couple finishes their day’s work, they have little time left because their house is hot, absorbing the heat of the sun all day long.

According to Avikal Sombangshi, an urban environmental researcher at India’s Center for Science and Environment, data from the federal government show that heat stress is the most common cause of death after lightning strikes due to natural forces in the last 20 years.

“Most of these deaths occur in men between the ages of 30-45. These are working, blue-collar men who have no choice but to work in the scorching heat,” said Sombangshi.

There is no law in India that prohibits outside activity if the temperature exceeds a certain level, unlike some Middle Eastern countries, Somavanshi said.

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