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Street children’s health in danger amid extreme heatwave in India

Updates • India • Jun 2024

Children living and working on the streets of Delhi and Jaipur are being exposed to an unprecedented heatwave. Extreme heat is impacting northern and central India with temperatures reaching over 48 degrees Celsius, putting street children a heightened risk of heat-related illnesses and death.

The heatwave has already killed over 200 people and 25,000 are suffering suspected heatstroke during the summer season, Reuters and the Independent reported.

India swelters in record-breaking heatwave

Since April, Southeast Asia has experienced an extreme heatwave that has rewritten climatic history. Hundreds of temperature records have been broken in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, and India, triggering urgent health warnings and school closures. The situation for the people living in the region is further worsened by high humidity that makes the heat even more unbearable and dangerous.

The temperatures in northern and central India climbed above 48 degrees Celsius over the past two weeks. Hospitals are recording a rise in admissions and dozens of heat-stroke related deaths were reported. People are following the government guidelines to avoid dehydration, however increased consumption causes severe water and electricity shortages. Extended period of oppressive heat and dry conditions have led to crop damage, intensified wildfires and animals collapsing.

Deadly heat also occurred as nearly a billion of Indians cast their votes in a 6-week long general election. On a last day of the election, heatstroke killed 33 members of polling staff.

According to World Weather Attribution, human-caused climate change caused the temperature rise of 0.85 degrees Celsius and made the extreme heat across Southeast Asia 45 times more likely. The current cycle is impacted by the transition from ‘El Nino’ to ‘La Nina’ effect and a lack of wind circulation, prolonging the heating.

Street children in Delhi and Jaipur face disproportional health risks

This severe heatwave poses a significant threat to everyone, but it is particularly dangerous for the street children and families Toybox supports. Children in Delhi and Jaipur who live on the streets or rely on the streets for their livelihoods face relentless sun and lack of shade, which makes their daily lives a struggle for survival.

The temperatures children face in Delhi and Jaipur are much higher than the rest of the population. Urban areas are hotter due to higher population density and lack of greenery and additionally, these cities are in a proximity to the Thar Desert, bringing hot and dry continental winds.

Since children’ bodies have slower acclimatization to temperature changes, children also face disproportional risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and other heat-related illnesses, and even death. As the water in India becomes scarce, lack of access water access can also lead to malnutrition and spread of diseases.

Pooja Singh, Project Head at our local partner working with street children in Jaipur and Delhi - CHETNA, shares, "Over the past year and a half, we have been witnessing severe consequences of climate change. The recent winter was extreme and record-breaking, and now we are experiencing extreme heat waves that have broken records from many previous years. The direct impact of these extreme weather conditions can be seen on street children and families who are directly exposed to the sun and various difficulties."

Due to extreme temperatures, children across India cannot go to school. Due to urgent health warnings, some schools were closed early – before the official beginning of the summer holidays, while other governments postponed school re-opening after the break.

Even though the government put in place guidelines to reduce the impact of the heatwave, street children and their families do not have access to cooling equipment, hydration supplies, or medical support to protect themselves.

What is Toybox doing in response?

Our local partner CHETNA are working tirelessly to support street children and families across our projects in Delhi and Jaipur, however with temperatures soaring they are at an ever-increasing risk, with the current conditions making their already challenging work even more difficult.

Here at Toybox, we are supporting CHETNA to respond to this crisis by helping to provide items that are essential to help the children and the team to manage oppressive heat, including:

• Heat relief kits, with caps, electrolyte sachets, and glucose packets

• Umbrellas

• Air water coolers

• Portable fans

The extreme temperatures are posing significant health risks and exacerbating the challenges street children in India already face. At Toybox, we believe that we can together make a positive impact through the power of prayer. Please take a moment in your prayers to support the CHETNA team as they provide relief to these vulnerable communities. May they find strength, resources, and protection during this difficult time.

The heatwave in India is one of multiple cases when ‘El Nino’ and human-induced climate change seriously threaten the lives and rights of street children. Toybox is currently working to support street children in Nairobi who were severely impacted by the severe floods in April and May. You can read more about the climate-change induced situation in Kenya here and find out more about how climate change affects street children around the world here.

If you can, you can make donation to directly support our work with CHETNA in Delhi and Jaipur here. Your support is invaluable and will enable the team to help those who need them most urgently.

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