24,000 heatwave fatalities in India span decades, not in 2023

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on May 12, 2023 at 11:07
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP Indonesia
A video has been viewed millions of times after it was shared in Facebook, Instagram and TikTok posts that falsely claim that a heatwave that hit India in 2023 has killed over 24,000 people. But the figure actually represents the total number of heatstroke deaths in the South Asian country between 1992 and 2015.

"Heatwave hits India, death toll reaches 24,000," reads the Indonesian-language caption of this Facebook post, published on April 28, 2023.

"The world is currently being struck by a heatwave, characterised by 'hellish' weather, particularly in the Asian region," the caption continues. "One of the hardest-hit countries by the heatwave is India."

The post uploads a 30-second video, overlaid with sticker text that says: "India is grieving. Here is the latest update from India after 24,000 people died due to heatwave".

The post also uploads a screenshot from the video, as well as screenshots of April 2023 news headlines from local media CNBC Indonesia and Detikcom about 24,000 heatwave deaths in India (archived links here and here).

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on May 8, 2023

The post appeared after scorching heatwave hit swathes of Southeast and South Asia, as reported by AFP in April 2023.

During the recent heatwave, India recorded hundreds of forest fires, while freshly laid road asphalts melted in Gujarat state (archived links here and here).

The same clip has racked over five million views after it was shared with a similar claim here on Instagram; here and here on Facebook; here and here on TikTok; and here on video-sharing app SnackVideo.

But the claim is misleading.

Heatwave victims

The death toll in fact refers to the approximate total number of people that have died from heatwaves that occurred in India between 1992 and 2015 -- not just in 2023.

Data from India's National Disaster Management Authority showed there were 24,223 people who died from heatwaves during the two-decade period (archived link).

There has been no official data on heatwave deaths this year, but at least 13 people died from heatstroke at an outdoor awards event in India's northwestern state of Maharahstra on April 16, 2023 (archived link).

At least 25 people died due to heatstroke in India in 2022, when the country recorded the hottest March and April in 122 years (archived links here and here).

While the CNBC Indonesia and Detikcom headlines do not specify a timeframe of the 24,000 fatalities, both reports explain that the death toll is the number of people who "have died in the past 30 years".

Below are screenshots of the CNBC Indonesia report (left) and the Detikcom report (right), with the parts mentioning the death toll highlighted by AFP:

Screenshots of the CNBC Indonesia report (left) and the Detikcom report (right)

The CNBC Indonesia and Detikcom reports quoted an article published by Grist, a US-based media outlet focusing on climate issues, on April 24, 2023 (archived link).

The Grist article, which discusses the economic and human costs of heatwaves in India, is based on a study done by Cambridge researchers (archived link).

In the study published in in the journal PLOS Climate, they wrote: "The cumulative heatwave-related mortality in India is over 24,000 deaths since 1992."

The misleading posts and the video have omitted this detail.

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