SUNDAY, February 25, 2024

A day in the life of a construction worker amid India's heatwave

A day in the life of a construction worker amid India's heatwave

As the sun rose over another day on the outskirts of the Indian capital of New Delhi, construction worker Yogendra Tundre squatted beside a tap for a shower before heading to work.

Life at a building site is laborious and hard enough, but 29-year-old Tundre now has to contend with an unprecedented heatwave and record high temperatures.

"There is too much heat and if we don't work, what will we eat? For a few days, we work and then we sit idle for a few days because of tiredness and heat," Tundre said.

Temperatures in New Delhi have touched 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this year, often causing Tundre, and his wife Lata, who works at the same construction site, to fall sick. That in turn means they lose income.

"Because of the heat, sometimes I don't go to work. I take days off. Many times I fall sick from dehydration and then require glucose bottles [intravenous fluids],” Lata said while standing outside their house, a temporary shanty with a tin roof.

Scientists have linked the early onset of an intense summer to climate change, and say more than a billion people in India and neighbouring Pakistan were in some way at risk from the extreme heat.

India suffered its hottest March in more than 100 years. April saw many places, including New Delhi, record unusually high temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius on most days. More than two dozen people have died of suspected heat stroke since late March, and power demand has hit multi-year highs.

Tundre and Lata live with their two young children near the construction site in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi. They moved from their home state of Chhattisgarh in central India to seek work and higher wages in Delhi, leaving their eldest son in the care of his maternal grandparents.

On the construction site, labourers of both genders carry heavy loads, scale-up walls and lay concrete.

"All of us are working under the scorching sun in such heat. One will fall ill and then has to run for the doctor, and the doctors will charge 500 rupees [about THB200] when they could have done with just 200 rupees," said Sikandar Miyan, a construction worker using a ragged scarf around his head as protection against the sun.

Avikal Somvanshi, an urban environment researcher from India's Centre for Science and Environment, said government data showed that heat stress was the most common cause of death, after lightning, from forces of nature in the last 20 years.

There are no laws in India that prevent outdoor activity when temperatures reach a certain level, unlike in some Middle Eastern countries, Somvanshi added.

Even when Tundre and Lata finish their day's work, they have a little respite from the heat, as their home has absorbed heat all day long.

"It is very hot here. How can one live peacefully?" questioned Tundre, after a simple dinner prepared by Lata over an earthen oven.

"There is no resting here," he added wistfully, beneath a half-moon in the sky.