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Severe Heat Wave Grips Many Parts of India



A severe heat wave sweeping across the plains of India has claimed at least 100 lives. It has also led to power and water shortages in many parts of the country, including the capital, New Delhi.

As temperatures hovered around 44 degrees Celsius across northern, eastern and central India, officials in several states reported scores of heat-related deaths. Many of the victims belong to India's poorest states such as Orissa and Jharkhand.

In Orissa, hospitals opened special wards for heat stroke victims.

High temperatures are common starting May, but seasonal monsoon rains usually bring some cooling showers in June. However there has been no respite from the scorching weather due to poor rains in recent weeks.

The impact of the prolonged heat spell has been aggravated by acute power and water shortages in many parts of the country.

In New Delhi, angry residents in parts of the city have held street protests to draw attention to the dry taps and lengthy power outages.

Purnima Mehta, who lives in Delhi's posh South Delhi area, complains of power outages for up to six hours a day.

"Lack of power leads to immense discomfort for everyone, and of course water is a basic necessity, and without that how can any household function?" Mehta asked.

Officials say there is little they can do to ease the situation. Levels in water reservoirs have fallen, and power stations are unable to cope with the huge surge in demand as air conditioners work overtime.

New Delhi's chief minister, Shiela Dikshit, has warned of tough days ahead if monsoon rains do not arrive soon, and is asking people to conserve both water and power.

The warning came after officials forecast that monsoons are likely to be "below normal", and the maximum shortfall will be in northwestern India.

Minister of Earth Sciences Prithviraj Chavan said this week that government officials are monitoring the situation that may arise due to the deficit in rains.

"There are many implications about irrigation, about electricity generation, about drinking water and steps to mitigate that would be taken," Chavan said.

Officials have resorted to a variety of measures to cope with the situation. In New Delhi, summer vacations in schools have been extended by one week to protect school children from the blazing sun. In Punjab - a rich, agricultural state - the state government has ordered that air conditioners in government offices should be turned off so that power can be conserved to pump water to farms. In Andhra Pradesh, the government has drawn up plans for cloud seeding operations if rains are delayed further.

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