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India's Kerala to give workers a siesta to help beat the heat

by Roli Srivastava | @Rolionaroll | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 6 March 2019 10:11 GMT

Farmer, Joby Pathrose works in his banana field at Okkal village in Ernakulam, Kerala, India, September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram

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Kerala's disaster management authority has issued sunstroke warnings for the next three months

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Workers in India's Kerala state are now getting a three-hour afternoon siesta as part of a series of benefits aimed at combating soaring temperatures and improving labour conditions, government officials said on Wednesday.

Kerala, which suffered its worst floods in a century last year, is bracing itself for more extreme weather conditions in 2019 and the state's disaster management authority last week issued sunstroke warnings for the next three months.

"There is extreme heat in Kerala. So we are making arrangements for workers and have announced a three-hour break from noon until 3 p.m.," said Sreedharan Tulasidharan, a labour commissioner with the Kerala government.

There are an estimated 3 million migrant workers in Kerala, which offers daily wages that are up to three times higher than in other Indian states, labour rights campaigners say.

Most work in the construction, agriculture, mining and fishing industries.

"We call them our guests. Migrant workers' output is very high. Their productivity contributes to our GDP. We are nurturing and treating them well," Tulasidharan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Climate experts have warned that the world can expect higher temperatures and more frequent heat waves, with the poorest communities likely to be worst-affected as the impacts of climate change kick-in.

The World Health Organization says heat-stress, linked to climate change, is likely to cause 38,000 extra deaths a year worldwide between 2030 and 2050.

Home to 60 percent of the world's population, Asia-Pacific is the planet's most disaster-prone region, according to the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2017.

India, with approximately 1.3 billion people, is the second most populous country in the world and also among the most disaster-prone. Heat waves in India caused over 2,400 deaths in 2015, according to government data.

Officials of the Kerala's disaster management authority said cases of heat stroke and sunburn were already being reported and they had asked various government departments to take precautionary measures.

"Summer in Kerala was never harsh," said Sekhar L. Kuriakose, a senior official with the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, which issued the sunstroke warning last week.

"This year we saw temperatures rise by 3 degrees in 14 days during February. That is not normal," said Kuriakose.

Kerala announced health and pension benefits for migrant workers in November.

Last week, the state inaugurated hostels for migrant workers in Palakkad town and now plans to expand the scheme.

With high levels of literacy and an ageing population, Kerala leans heavily on migrant workers, said Benoy Peter, executive director at Kerala's Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, a non-profit.

($1 = 70.5425 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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