A record-breaking heat wave in India and Pakistan is affecting more than a billion people— and the worst is still to come. Reuters reports that the extreme heat making life almost unbearable across a wide swath of the subcontinent this week follows the hottest March since the India Meteorological Department started keeping records more than 120 years ago. Forecaster say things will keep getting hotter this week, with India's capital, New Delhi, expected to see temperatures above 111 Fahrenheit, the BBC reports. In some regions, temperatures could rise over 120, per the Washington Post.
Heat waves aren't unusual in India, but they've arrived much earlier than usual this year, with monsoon rains still weeks away in many areas. "Temperatures are rising rapidly in the country, and rising much earlier than usual," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told heads of India's state governments this week, per Reuters. In March, rainfall was 71% below the long-term average. The heat has damaged harvests and led to a surge in demand for power that has caused blackouts in some cities, the New York Times reports.
Health services are struggling to deal with a rise in patients with heat-related illnesses, worsened by a "heat island" effect that means cities aren't cooling down enough at night. The heat has also caused spontaneous combustion in landfills in and around New Delhi, where a fire enveloped the city in acrid smoke on Tuesday, the AP reports. Analysts say that while several atmospheric factors have contributed to the current heat wave, the root cause is climate change, as temperatures are rising from a higher baseline. (Read more India stories.)