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How people in India's capital city of New Delhi are coping with the heat


Parts of the U.S. are bracing for a heat wave this week. Meanwhile, areas of South Asia have faced blistering temperatures since mid April. That includes India's capital, New Delhi, one of the world's biggest cities and home to more than 30 million people. On the hottest day, the temperature hit more than 121 degrees. For weeks now, most days in the capital have cleared 100 degrees. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports on how people are coping.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: A megaphone in a bazaar in Central Delhi blares drink it cold, drink it sweet. It's an advertisement for Ishtiyaq's cold yogurt drink store. Folks down cups for about 10 cents apiece. It looks busy, but Ishtiyaq says this is a slump.

ISHTIYAQ: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He expects he'll only make $7 profit today. He says people stay home when it's this hot. Ishtiyaq doesn't have that choice. He supports his wife, his kids, his parents.

ISHTIYAQ: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: "What to do, brother," he says, "the poor have to endure it all."

ADITYA VALIATHAN PILLAI: This is what Indian vulnerability looks like.

HADID: Aditya Valiathan Pillai studies policy responses to extreme heat at the Deli-based thinktank Sustainable Futures Collaborative.

PILLAI: You have 75% of India's working population - well over 350 million people - who are directly heat exposed because of their jobs.

HADID: Pillai says it includes people who live in slums, where it's often hotter than other parts of the city. Like the Sanjay Camp, where tiny, jumbly homes huddle near the leafy diplomatic quarter. There's also no running water in the Sanjay Camp, either. Men, women and kids crowd around a water pump, buckets and tankers at the ready.


HADID: One woman has come from a nearby slum hoping for a chance at some water.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says, "we don't get much water where I live. I'm trying my luck here." Government water tankers also come three times a day to shore up supplies. A short drive away to a homeless shelter for women and children, a water pump, a tanker - that's a dream. Here, one woman says, it's always in short supply.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says, "we fight over it." But they're luckier than other homeless folk. A few dozen mothers and kids sleep here in a large room. One woman flips through the TV channels.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: It's crammed with beds. One kid points.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: "Three kids in that bed, three in that one." She whispers, "it's boiling here." Taranum sleeps here with her three daughters. She was recently diagnosed with typhoid, an illness more prevalent during heat waves. She's afraid this heat will kill her.

TARANUM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: "I can't die," she says. "Who will care for my daughters?" But Taranum says other folks have it harder.

TARANUM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Taranum says a newborn died during this heat wave. The baby's mother's name is Salma. She lives under a tree near the shelter. No space for her inside.

SALMA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She tells NPR that in late May, she gave birth in a hut she built herself. She says the baby was fine, breastfeeding. Two days later, the baby died. She didn't even have a name. Ina Khan died, too. She was 6 months old and lived on a dusty scrap of land near the shelter as well.

ANSAR KHAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Her father, Ansar Khan, says Ina died during her nap as a hot wind blew on a blazing day.

KHAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Khan is sure the heat killed Ina. There's no way of proving that now. But experts say babies are deeply vulnerable to the extreme heat. Pillai, who studies policy responses to extreme heat, says governments haven't figured out how to collect robust data around mortality and heat waves.

PILLAI: And that's very simply because of this massive black hole we have in terms of understanding heat wave deaths and heat illnesses.

HADID: Media outlets report dozens have died in the heat waves so far. It's likely a vast undercount and it doesn't include baby Ina. Khan says when he took her to the hospital, no one asked him why she might have died. He says hospital officials simply confirmed Ina was dead, then handed her back for burial. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.