India facing highest labour work hour loss due to heat stress: Study


India already loses around 101 billion hours a year on account of heat, the most in the world, and risks seeing this number rise to 230 billion hours a year when global warming reaches 2 degrees C over pre-industrial levels, a paper published in Nature on Tuesday said. That’s the equivalent of the work done by around 35 million people each working an eight-hour day, in a year .

At global warming of 2 degrees plus, the world will see the loss of 547 billion hours due to heat, the paper, lead-authored by Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University has estimated.

Countries in Southwest Asia, South Asia, and Africa already experience per capita workday losses of over 200 hours a year. Qatar and Bahrain are recording the highest per capita losses of at least 300 hours a year, it added.

“When we overlay per-capita labour losses on the working-age population in heavy outdoor labour, we find that countries with large populations in South and East Asia experience the most work hours lost, both in the coolest hours and in the full workday, with India showing the largest heat exposure impacts on heavy labour (>101 billion hours lost/year), despite its modest average per-capita labour losses (162 lost hours a year),” the paper stated.

Large population-weighted labour losses are also recorded in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China which may be driven by a combination of a huge working-age populations, seasonal heat exposure, and large fractions of population working in agriculture and construction. Under future warming scenarios India, China, Pakistan, and Indonesia will experience the largest such losses despite having lower national-average per-capita losses than other countries with smaller populations in Southeast Asia and tropical Africa, the study said.

Heat exposure of labourers is linked to multiple health impacts, including premature death; workplace injuries; morbidity from heat-related illness; and acute kidney damage. Indeed, heat exposure is a potential contributing factor to an epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in otherwise healthy, relatively young workers in Central America, Sri Lanka, India, and Egypt, and other parts of the world according to the paper which also added that heat exposure can raise the absorption of certain chemicals and is associated with adverse pregnancy and mental health conditions.

“Many workers in the tropics are already stopping work in the afternoon because it’s too hot. Luckily, about 30% of this lost labour can still be recovered by moving it to the early morning. But with each additional degree of global warming, workers’ ability to adapt this way will swiftly decrease as even the coolest hours of the day quickly become too hot for continuous outdoor labour,” said Luke Parsons, a climate researcher at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who co-led the study. “Sadly, many of the countries and people most impacted by current and future labour losses are not responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

The study showed that currently, approximately 30% of global heavy labour losses can be recovered by moving labour to cooler hours of the day. But this adaptation mechanism is likely to fail when there is higher warming.

“We show that this particular work shift adaptation potential is lost at a rate of about 2% per degree of global warming as early morning heat exposure rises to unsafe levels for continuous work, with worker productivity losses accelerating under higher warming levels. These findings emphasise the importance of finding alternative adaptation mechanisms to keep workers safe, as well as the importance of limiting global warming,” it concluded.

Global-mean temperatures are now around 1.1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. An additional 1°C of global warming relative to the present could occur as early as 2037. Therefore, if warming is left unchecked, the globe will continue to move into a new, ‘less adaptable’ climate regime within the lifetime of many young and middle-aged workers, the paper flagged.

“The impact of climate change is being felt and seen. Last decade is the warmest in the last 1.2 lakh years. To build adaptation need to plan short and long term measures. changes in working hours, creating infrastructure facilities at farm level to rest during peak day and creating knowledge and skills when people succumb to heat stress. Lack of tree cover is one of the major problems. Need to increase the tree cover. The yields in crops are also getting effected because of the increasing temperatures. Pollen dries up and yield goes down due to prolonged dry spells,” said G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad.

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