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Deadly Heat in India Is a Warning of Global Catastrophes to Come

Temperatures have risen so high that outdoor workers risk their health and dehydrated birds fall from the sky.

A farmer in Punjab’s Ludhiana District tries to cool off on May 1.

A farmer in Punjab’s Ludhiana District tries to cool off on May 1.

Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg

Even after three decades of growing wheat and rapeseed on his small plot in Punjab, India’s traditional breadbasket, Inderjit Singh was caught off guard by the heat wave that began rolling across South Asia early this spring. Temperatures in India typically peak in May before the start of monsoon rains. But this year they began hitting searing highs in March, with some days well above 40C (104F). Singh’s crops were ravaged. “There’s no way out for us,” says Singh, 58. “We can’t do anything about it.”

By now, people in developed countries are used to dire predictions of the catastrophes that scientists say will become routine in a warmer world. In India and neighboring Pakistan, some of the worst scenarios are playing out already—and providing an unsettling window into what may await the rest of us.