After the third day without power, the residents of Kasia Bagan had enough.
Their city of Kolkata was in the midst of a blistering heat wave, with temperatures rising to 105 degrees, making life in the narrow lanes and in their tiny one-room homes nearly unbearable. It was Ramadan as well, and many in the predominantly Muslim enclave were fasting. At about 6:30 p.m., word spread that an elder in the community had died of heat stroke.
Angry residents gathered in the dark lane, their voices rising, faces lit only by their cellphone screens. Even after the sun had gone down, they were still sweating through their clothes. When would the lights come back on? How could they live like this, let alone bury their dead? Why did the luxury shopping mall at the end of the block still have power, while they did not?
Sana Mumtaz, a divorced mother of three who lives on the lane with eight relatives in one room, felt her neighbors’ anger growing out of control.
“It is so hot that people are dying here,” she said. “People were putting up with power cuts and making adjustments for several days. But the death in the neighborhood triggered them.”
Mumtaz’s neighborhood, her city, her country — her very life as a poor Indian woman — reflect one of the world’s greatest emerging disparities in the era of extreme heat…
…The Climate Impact Lab, a group of economists and scientists, estimates that without measures like widespread air conditioning, higher temperatures would lead to several hundred thousand added deaths by 2040.
In 2020, just 12 percent of Indians had air conditioning in their homes, a number that will rise to 50 percent by 2050 — along with the country’s energy consumption, according to a 2021 study from scientists at the University of California at Berkeley.
But only those who make $10,000 a year or more typically install air conditioning, according to Lucas Davis, one of the study’s co-authors.