AP PHOTOS: New Delhi’s homeless shiver in the excruciating cold
NEW DELHI — As midnight approached in New Delhi and a freezing fog enveloped the Indian capital, thousands of homeless people spread tattered mattresses and blankets on the sidewalks and lay on them to stay warm.
Those who couldn’t afford blankets slept overnight around smoldering fires burned with trash and discarded cardboard boxes. Others ducked into a government shelter system.
It’s a scene repeated every year as India’s capital experiences a severe winter cold that leaves dozens of homeless people dead and tens of thousands more shivering in the streets.
On Sunday, New Delhi recorded its lowest temperature of 5.5 degrees Celsius (41.9 Fahrenheit), with India’s weather forecaster warning of a severe cold snap from Monday.
New Delhi’s 20 million residents face a variety of extreme weather conditions ranging from intense heatwaves in the summer to thick, gray smog that blankets the capital before the onset of winter. A devastating cold wave swept most of northern India. The cold street was so foggy that the driver could not see the car ahead, causing an accident.
The bone-chilling cold is challenging for the city’s homeless, who curl up on the sidewalks and sleep as traffic passes. Although the city’s night shelters are a refuge for many who would otherwise have to sleep near crowded roundabouts and underpasses, most people there live in harsh conditions. Many night shelters are overcrowded, have unclean toilets, and have no running water.
“Overcrowding is a big problem. Sunil Kumar Aledia of the Center for Inclusive Development, who has worked with the homeless in Delhi for decades, said that because of the high traffic, some people had to sleep on the side of the road.
India’s 2011 census figures show about 47,000 of the city’s residents are homeless, but activists say the number is too low and New Delhi has more than 150,000 homeless. fixed to sleep.
Official figures also show that the city’s 195 homeless shelters can only hold about 19,000 people, leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to stay warm.