By Anuradha Nagaraj
N agendra Yadav has been working shirtless in a stuffy room at a fabric printing factory near India’s industrial hub of Ahmedabad for years, but this summer the rising heat drove him to despair.
With May temperatures hovering over 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) for more than two weeks in the region, and little respite from the heat since, the 32-year-old said his workplace – which has no fans or air-conditioning – has become a “furnace”.
“Our endurance is tested everyday,” Yadav told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“The factory owner has air-conditioning in his office but there is not even a fan on the factory floor where we work. The shift is for 12 hours. Some of us fall sick, take a day off, lose wages but then come back here. We have no choice.”
Many Indian cities recorded their highest average temperatures this summer here, breaching century-old records, with multiple heat wave alerts announced by local administrations.
With the average global temperature having warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial times, such heat waves in South Asia are 30 times more likely, scientists have said here.
In India, almost 323 million people are at high risk from extreme heat and a lack of cooling equipment, found a report here released last month by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), a U.N.-backed organisation working on energy access.
Millions of workers like Yadav toil in small manufacturing units functioning out of sheds, cramped factory premises, or old, dilapidated buildings that have poor ventilation, no fans and no drinking-water coolers.
The pandemic’s economic fallout means manufacturers are less likely to invest in heat-beating measures while workers face longer hours to meet targets, putting their health at risk during heat waves and forcing many to take time off, unions say.
Furthermore, rising temperatures are leading to power cuts in industrial hubs – compounding the hardship for many factory workers, according to the Central Industrial Trade Union (CITU).
“When manufacturing stops in a factory and hours of work reduce, wages are cut,” said Arun Mehta, general secretary of the CITU in Gujarat state, where Yadav’s factory is located.
“There is fatigue, sickness, no money and despair everywhere.”
A 2018 study here by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute found that hot weather not only meant Indian factory workers were less productive but also more likely to miss work.
A 1 degree Celsius increase in the 10-day temperature average increased the probability that a manufacturing worker would be absent by as much as 5%, according to the research.