By Stephen Ryan in New Delhi
North India is currently experiencing its coldest weather in decades, with Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana among those worst affected by the weather. Nightly temperatures have been regularly falling below 3 Celsius in the capital, 4-5 degrees lower than the normal seasonal average. Last week, Delhi recorded temperatures of 1.9 degrees, the lowest in 44 years. Residents of other states including Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan are also braving unusually low temperatures. In the Kashmir valley, temperatures have dropped several degrees below zero.
Recognizing that there are many vulnerable people who are being severely by this unusual weather, Indian Red Cross Society has begun blanket distribution to those in the greatest need. Almost 10,000 blankets have already been dispatched by the society’s national headquarters to their state branches in Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
In Delhi, the organization is working with the St. John’s Ambulance to distribute 1,000 blankets to families – who may be particularly vulnerable at this time – accompanying patients to hospitals.
“It is those who are already vulnerable that are being worst affected by this cold spell; the old, the homeless, the sick. This is where the greatest need is, and this is where we will focus our efforts,” said Dr. S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society.
Despite efforts by the government, Indian Red Cross Society, and a large number of NGOs, reports indicate that there are a growing number of deaths due to the low temperatures; with most of the deaths among the homeless and the elderly. Reports have indicated that the death toll across the country may already be as high as 200.
For those on the roads, dense fog has been compounding the situation, resulting in delayed and cancelled trains, and leaving many people with little option but to wait in crowded train stations in low temperatures. The heavy fog, particularly at night, means even lower temperatures. The cold spell is expected to continue for at least the coming days, bringing concerns that the number of lives lost will continue to rise.