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India could soon become one of the first countries in the world to experience heat waves that could shatter human survivability limits, a new study by the World Bank has revealed.

The report, titled “Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector”, was released during the two-day “India Climate and Development Partners’ Meet”, organised on Wednesday by the World Bank in partnership with the Kerala government.

It said the “recent heatwave supports what many climate scientists have long cautioned about with reference to rising temperatures across South Asia” and that severe heatwaves, that are responsible for thousands of deaths across India over the last few decades, “are increasing with alarming frequency”.

The G20 Climate Risk Atlas that last year warned heatwaves across India are “likely to last 25 times longer by 2036-65 if carbon emissions remain high, as in the IPCC’s worst case emission scenario” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that has pointed to more frequent and intense heatwaves in the coming decade were also cited.

“The country is experiencing higher temperatures that arrive earlier and stay far longer. In April 2022, India was plunged into the grip of a punishing early spring heat wave that brought the country to a standstill, with temperatures in the capital, New Delhi, topping 46 degrees Celsius.”

It also noted that March this year, which witnessed extraordinary spikes in temperatures, was the hottest month ever recorded in the country.

As temperatures rise across India, so will the demand for cooling, the report pointed out.

But in a country where two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day and where the average cost of an air-conditioning unit can vary between $260 and $500, air-cooling systems are a luxury.

Only 8 per cent of Indian households owned air-conditioning units, it said.

“Indoor and electric fans can help to maintain thermal comfort, but these too are expensive to buy and inefficient. As a result, many poor and marginalised communities across India are more vulnerable to extreme heat, living in inadequately ventilated, hot and crowded homes without proper access to cooling.”

The World Bank report warned that “staying cool during extreme heat is about more than just comfort – it can constitute the precarious line between life and death.”

Rising heat across India can jeopardise economic productivity as well. “Up to 75 percent of India’s workforce, or 380 million people, depend on heat-exposed labour, at times working in potentially life-threatening temperatures,” the report stated.

With heat-exposed work contributing to nearly half the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the country is “extremely vulnerable to job losses”, it added.

“By 2030, India may account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress associated with productivity decline.”

Finally, it recommends that since the demand for space cooling alone has risen at an average pace of 4 per cent per year since 2000, there is a “great opportunity for India to foster future innovation and investment in the sector by providing a conducive policy environment”.

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