02:39 - Source: CNN
Deadly heat wave in South Asia
New Delhi CNN  — 

Extreme heat in India has killed at least 77 people over the past 10 days, including dozens of poll workers, as voting wrapped up in the world’s largest general election.

India has endured a scorching summer — with a part of the capital of Delhi recording the country’s highest-ever temperature of 49.9 degrees Celsius (121.8 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday last week — as voters have hit the polls over a six-week election.

At least 33 poll workers died in a single day in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the state’s chief election officer, Navdeep Rinwa, told reporters Sunday. Their families will receive $18,000 each in compensation, he said.

Despite being fitted out with water dispensers, mist machines and shaded areas, polling stations in Delhi were unusually quiet on Saturday, the penultimate day of voting. For some, casting a ballot was not worth the risk.

Others urged eligible voters to try and tolerate the heat. Standing on the sweltering streets, a Delhi resident called Haseem told CNN that voting is “a fundamental right and the foremost duty for every citizen of any republic or any democracy. We should be coming out, whatever the weather.”

Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
Voters wait to cast their ballots under a makeshift canopy in New Delhi, India, May 25, 2024.

A woman selling lemonade on the streets of Delhi told the AFP French news agency: “The heat is so harsh here, that when the wind comes, it feels like someone is slapping your face.”

With the peak of summer still weeks away, temperatures are expected to rise further. “I don’t know what we will do,” she said.

Home to more than 1.4 billion people, about 969 million Indians were eligible to cast their vote in the election — more than the populations of North America and the European Union combined. Around 642 million showed up, the most ever to participate, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar told a press conference on Monday.

Voters and election workers have endured an extended period of extreme heat since polls opened on April 19, in a mammoth democratic exercise that ended Sunday. Polls suggest Prime Minister Narenda Modi will secure a rare third consecutive term in office, with results expected Tuesday.

To carry out such a huge election, India relies on a network of some 15 million polling officials and security staff, with some of these election workers traveling via road, boat, camel, train and helicopter to reach citizens across the vast nation.

But the event has been marred by the deaths of dozens of poll workers and voters. Some 20 people were reported dead due to “sun stroke” between May 31 and June 2 in the eastern state of Odisha, according to the state’s disaster management agency.

“In Odisha we have been experiencing severe temperatures the last few days, the heat here isn’t as high as northern India but here high humidity is also a factor,” Satyabrata Sahu, Odisha’s special relief commissioner told CNN Monday.

Sahu said rainfall over the weekend could reduce the heat in the coming days.

Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto/Getty Images
A woman stands beside her family member who is suffering from heatstroke in Varanasi, India, on May 30, 2024.

Another 24 people died across the capital territory of Delhi, the eastern Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand and the western Indian state of Rajasthan since May 24, local officials said.

Election duty is compulsory in India for public sector employees, who are assigned by the election commission before polling begins.

“Heat wave conditions over Northwest, Central & East India are likely to continue with reduced intensity during next 3 days,” the Indian Meteorological Department said on Sunday.

India is among the countries expected to be worst affected by the climate crisis, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), threatening its development while risking reversing its progress on poverty alleviation, health and economic growth.

The country often experiences heat waves during the summer months of May and June, but in recent years they have arrived earlier and become more prolonged. Experts say the climate crisis is only going to cause more frequent and longer heat waves in the future, testing India’s ability to adapt.

This story has been updated with additional information.