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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 14:58 GMT
Winter grips northern India
Municipal workers warm themselves around a fire in Delhi
Millions in India are ill-equipped to deal with cold
Wintry weather gripping northern India has claimed at least 20 lives in little over a week and is set to continue, the authorities say.

Unofficial reports put the toll five times higher, but officials warn many deaths may have been caused by old age or illness.

Severe cold will continue for a few more days. We expect the temperature to go down further

AK Verma
India Met Dept
Most casualties were in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, where freezing winds have swept down from the Himalayas.

Homeless pavement-dwellers and beggars have been hardest hit.

Millions live in India without power, shelter or warm clothing. Every winter, dozens die as temperatures plummet.

More cold coming

Temperatures in northern states have been dipping to just several degrees above zero celsius in recent days.

Early on Tuesday, Ranchi, the capital of eastern Jharkand state, recorded a low of 1 C.

Meteorologists say there is no end in sight to the cold snap, and that it is not unusual for this time of year.

"Similar foggy and overcast conditions were observed in winters during the past few years," SK Subramanium, the Met department's deputy director general, told the BBC.

Shelter

The authorities in the worst-hit areas of Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Bihar state have been lighting bonfires on street corners to help people keep warm.

Schools have been shut until next week and many are being used to provide shelter to those in need.

Farmers have been warned to irrigate crops as a precaution against frost.

There has also been widespread disruption to transport.

In the capital, Delhi, dense fog has brought delays to many flights and railway journeys.

Several domestic and international flights have been either cancelled or diverted.

Power shortages in the capital, too, have been more frequent owing to increased consumption.

See also:

31 Dec 02 | South Asia
05 Jan 01 | South Asia
06 Jan 00 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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