India bans daytime cooking as temperatures soar
Cooking during the day has been banned in some parts of India as the country suffers a heatwave that has claimed the lives of more than 300 people this month.
The eastern state of Bihar last week took the unprecedented step of forbidding any cooking between 9am and 6pm, after accidental fires exacerbated by dry, hot and windy weather swept through shantytowns and thatched-roof houses in villages and killed 79 people.
They included 10 children and five adults killed in a fire sparked during a Hindu prayer ceremony in Bihar’s Aurangabad district.
Hoping to prevent more fires, officials have also barred burning spent crops or holding religious fire rituals. Anyone defying the ban risks up to a year in jail.
“We call this the fire season in Bihar,” Vyas, a state disaster management official who goes by one name, said. “Strong, westerly winds stoke fires which spread easily and cause great damage.”
Much of India is reeling under a weeks-long heatwave and severe drought conditions that have decimated crops, killed livestock and left at least 330 million Indians without enough water for their daily needs.
Rivers, lakes and dams have dried up in parts of the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and overall officials say that groundwater reservoirs are at just 22 per cent capacity.
In some areas, the situation is so bad the government has sent tankers of water for emergency relief.
At least 300 people have died of heat-related illness this month, including 110 in the state of Orissa, 137 in Telangana and another 45 in Andhra Pradesh, where temperatures have been hovering around 44C.
State meteorological official YK Reddy said the situation would only get worse in May, traditionally the hottest month in India.
The southern state of Andhra Pradesh is running ads on TV and in newspapers urging people to stay indoors during the hottest hours.
Huge numbers of farmers, meanwhile, have migrated to nearby cities and towns in search of manual labour.
This is the second consecutive year southern India has suffered from a deadly heatwave, after some 2,500 people died last year.
Orissa’s capital of Bhubaneshwar and Maharashtra’s city of Nagpur joined Gujarat’s Ahmedabad in launching a heatwave programme to educate people on how to stay cool, provide shelters and train medical workers on dealing with heatrelated illnesses such as sun stroke and dehydration.
This week, more than 150 leading Indian economists, rights activists and academics expressed their “collective anxiety about the enormous suffering of the rural poor” in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The letter says the official response to the crisis has been “sadly listless, lacking in both urgency and compassion”.
While the monsoon is not expected until June, experts hope there would be spells of light rain. BP Yadav from India’s department of meteorology said: “The effect could last a few days.”
COOLING OFF: A man splashes himself with water from a broken pipe in Samba, India