India’s capital New Delhi is shivering through an unusually harsh bout of winter cold that has been blamed for killing scores of homeless people and leaving other hard-up residents struggling to keep warm.
The sprawling megacity’s 20 million inhabitants are accustomed to year-round weather extremes, from blistering summer heat to torrential downpours and thick, toxic smog at the end of autumn.
Still, the deep chill and blustery rains this month have been an ordeal for many, with New Delhi last Tuesday recording its coldest January day in nearly a decade.
Recent figures on homelessness across the city are hard to come by, but according to India’s 2011 census, approximately 47,000 of the city’s residents were sleeping rough.
Activists, however, say that is a vast underestimation.
Official figures show the city’s homeless shelters are only able to accommodate about 9,300 people.
Sunil Kumar Aledia of the Centre for Holistic Development, who has worked with New Delhi’s homeless population for decades, said the city has seen about 176 deaths from exposure to the cold so far this year.
India’s weather bureau has told local media that New Delhi’s maximum daily temperatures have been between two and six degrees Celsius below normal for most of January.
On January 25, the recorded high temperature was 12.1 degrees Celsius (54 Fahrenheit), the lowest January high since 2013 and 10 degrees below the long-term average for the month.
The lows have been in the single digits for much of the last few weeks.