“I don’t have enough money to pay for air conditioning, it’s 40°C at home”

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Women carry a fan bought at the market during a hot day in New Delhi, India, May 22, 2024. AMARJEET KUMAR SINGH / ANADOLU VIA AFP

The mercury fluctuates between 45°C and 47°C, the parks so popular with the inhabitants of New Delhi are deserted, there are only stray dogs digging holes in the earth to find coolness. In the half-empty streets, passers-by walk with their heads and faces covered with scarves or in the shade of an umbrella. The tar melts during the hottest hours. The Indian capital and the north of the country are being crushed by a grueling and inhuman heat wave.

On Monday, May 20, the thermometer crossed the 47°C mark, with a maximum of 47.8°C in Najafgarh in the suburbs of New Delhi, the highest temperature recorded in the country. The Indian Meteorological Department has issued a red alert for the megacity and parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Authorities have ordered schools to close early for the summer vacation, but construction sites continue.

The atmosphere has the effect of a gigantic wind tunnel of hot, dry and dusty air. The heat gives almost no respite: at night, the thermometer does not fall below 32°C and the tanks placed on the roofs of buildings deliver scalding water.

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It is obviously the poor who are suffering the most from this new heatwave, those housed in precarious or cheap housing, without the possibility of cooling off. “I don’t have enough money to pay for air conditioning, I just have a fan, it’s 40°C at home and I can’t sleep. I’m exhausted “explains a mother who lives in a dense neighborhood of New Delhi and who has to take buses transformed into an oven to get to her work every day.

All those who make a living from small street jobs, the street vendors, the garbage collectors, the ironers, the tailors, the barbers, the rickshaw drivers, the delivery men, continue their work despite the heat. “I arrive at 8 a.m. and work until 7 p.m. I have no choice, I have four children to feed”, explains a plant seller, aged 40, who has set up her cart at the entrance to an upscale neighborhood. She has been living with her husband and children in a slum made of tents and sheet metal since their departure from Uttar Pradesh.

Uncontrolled urbanization

On the sidewalk of Lodhi Colony, in the south of the city, Uday Chand, a migrant from Bihar, in the northeast of the federation, stretched a canvas between two trees to protect the vegetables he sells from the sun. “I work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. People no longer come during the day, it’s too hot. It’s hard, we lose a large part of the products, which rot”, he explains. This merchant barely manages to earn 400 to 500 rupees per day (between 4.50 and 5.50 euros).

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