AP PHOTOS: New Delhi’s homeless shiver with bitter cold
NEW DELHI — As midnight nears in New Delhi and freezing fog settles in the Indian capital, thousands of homeless people spread torn mattresses and blankets on the sidewalks and lie on them for warmth.
Those who cannot afford blankets spend the night around a smoldering fire built with trash and discarded cardboard. Others hide in a government shelter system.
It’s a scene repeated every year when India’s capital experiences a harsh bout of winter cold, blamed for killing dozens of homeless people and leaving tens of thousands more shivering in the streets.
New Delhi recorded a low of 5.5 degrees Celsius (41.9 Fahrenheit) on Sunday, with India’s meteorological agency warning of a severe cold snap from Monday.
New Delhi’s 20 million residents are conditioned to a variety of extreme weather conditions, from scorching heat waves in the summer to the thick, gray smog that shrouds the capital before the onset of winter when a brutal cold snap sweeps across the major part of northern India. The cold covers the streets in a freezing fog so blinding that drivers cannot see the cars in front of them, causing accidents.
The freezing cold is a hardship for the city’s homeless, who curl up on sidewalks and sleep to the rhythm of traffic. Even though the city’s overnight shelters are a refuge for many people who would otherwise find themselves sleeping near busy roundabouts and underpasses, most people live there in harsh conditions. Many night shelters are overcrowded and have dirty toilets and no water.
“Overcrowding is a big problem. Due to overcrowding, some people are sleeping on the side of the road,” said Sunil Kumar Aledia of the Center for Holistic Development, which has worked with Delhi’s homeless population for decades.
Indian census figures from 2011 show around 47,000 of the city’s residents were homeless, but campaigners say the number is grossly underestimated and New Delhi has more than 150,000 people without permanent homes to sleep in.
Official figures also show that the city’s 195 homeless shelters can only accommodate around 19,000 people, leaving tens of thousands struggling to get warm.