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Insights into Editorial: Cool it: on labour loss due to heatwave

Insights into Editorial: Cool it: on labour loss due to heatwave


Heatwaves are associated with increased rates of heat stress and heat stroke, worsening heart failure and acute kidney injury from dehydration.

Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing morbidities are particularly vulnerable.

The Lancet countdown on health and climate has reported that India was particularly affected by the rising frequency of heatwave events and lost about 75 billion hours of work, a significant part of it in the agricultural sector.

The staggering loss of an estimated 153 billion hours of labour during 2017 due to rising temperatures around the globe is a reminder to governments that they are not doing enough to dramatically curb greenhouse gas emissions.


Lancet Report: Lancet urges response to heatwave exposure surge:

From 2014-2017, the average length of heatwaves in India ranged from 3-4 days compared to the global average of 0.8-1.8 days.

Indians were exposed to almost 60 million heatwave exposure events in 2016, a jump of about 40 million from 2012, the report released.

Almost 153 billion hours of labour were lost globally in 2017 due to heat, an increase of 62 billion hours from the year 2000.

Ambient air pollution led to the premature death of an estimated half a million people in India in 2015.


Farm labour vulnerable due to Heat Waves:

  • For the agriculture sector alone, this rose to about 60,000 million hours in 2017, from about 40,000 million hours in 2000.
  • Overall, across sectors India lost almost 75,000 million hours of labour in 2017, from about 43,000 million hours in 2000.


  • The agriculture sector was more vulnerable compared to the industrial and service sectors because workers there were more likely to be exposed to heat.
  • The findings are significant for India as agriculture makes up 18% of the country’s GDP and employs almost half the population.


  • A recent World Bank report on South Asia’s hotspots predicted a 8% erosion of the country’s GDP by 2050, accompanied by a fall in living standards due to changes in temperature, rainfall and precipitation patterns.


  • This has worrying implications for rural employment and the well-being of a large sections of the population that depends on farming.


Adaptation Approaches to Neutralise the Heat Waves:

It is vital that India gets more ambitious about cutting back on carbon emissions, even as it presses for the fulfilment of the climate finance obligations of developed countries under the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

A further reduction in the share of coal in the energy mix through sustained support for renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaics, must form the cornerstone of national policy.

This must be matched by a shift away from use of fossil fuels for transport, and the induction of more electric vehicles.

Such a policy would yield the parallel benefit of improving air quality.



The Lancet Countdown 2018 report recommends Indian policy makers must take a series of initiatives to mitigate the increased risks to health, and the loss of labour hours due to a surge in exposure to heatwave events in the country over the 2012-2016 period.

The importance of funds for adaptation is underscored by Lancet’s finding that 99% of losses from climate-related events in low-income countries were not insured.

According to the ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, If the average global temperature rose by more than one degree Celsius from the present, India could “annually” expect conditions like the 2015 heat wave that killed at least 2,000.


Way Forward:

Coming days, The Conference of Parties a compact of about 190 countries signatory to the UN treaties to address global warming is set to begin talks in Katowice, Poland, to iron out a ‘rule book’ to implement the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The aggravated impact of climate change on health is a serious issue for policymakers to consider when they gather in Katowice for the conference.

The agreement was a landmark accord, in which countries agreed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by limiting the global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.

India’s approach to adaptation should, therefore, prepare for catastrophes with a well-considered plan to provide relief and rehabilitation.