When nearly 170 people died across two northern Indian states in a scorching heatwave, a team of AP journalists made the organization the first among international media outlets to file the news.
The heatwave struck India’s two most populous states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar over the weekend and into Monday.
AP reporter Biswajeet Banerjee in Uttar Pradesh sent in the first story on Saturday when at least 34 people had died as the state sweltered under the severe heat. Newsperson Aijaz Hussein worked with Banerjee to file the story quickly, and the two of them — with inputs from Indrajeet Singh in Bihar — followed up with an update on Sunday, when 96 people had died across both states. Nearly 170 people had died by Monday evening.
Video journalist Piyush Nagpal and photojournalist Rajesh Kumar Singh were already in Uttar Pradesh’s Lalitpur district for a feature on heat commissioned by the Climate team when this news came in. Chief photographer Manish Swarup quickly reacted and made the decision to deploy them to Ballia district, the epicenter of the crisis.
The smart planning and quick coordination paid off: By Monday morning, Nagpal and Singh were on the ground in Ballia after a grueling car journey of 800 kilometers that took all night. Once there, they worked through the searing heat to file powerful video and photos that depicted a grim situation. The visuals showed overwhelmed health workers and a hospital struggling to accommodate the rising number of sick residents being wheeled in on stretchers.
Sibi Arasu, the Climate newsperson in South Asia in Bengaluru, worked closely with Nagpal and Singh to elevate the text story to show the chaotic scenes inside the main hospital, with families and doctors scrambling as many patients needed urgent attention. The hospital had no working air conditioners, and cooling units were not working properly due to power being cut. The district’s morgue was full, forcing some families to take the bodies of their relatives home instead.
Arasu also brought his expertise to the story, highlighting the effects of climate change on extreme weather events like this one.
The AP was the first international outlet to file on the heatwave over the weekend. The national press had a few stories, but none yet in the global newspapers or outlets. Reuters, for example, filed its first story two days after the AP.
AP’s coverage remained competitive on Monday, with fresh details and quotes from on the ground as well as swift updates on the death toll. The AP stories on the heatwave, including text and photos, were picked up widely by outlets including The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, ABC News, The Guardian, Sky News, and The Economic Times in India. The Washington Post, which picked up all three AP stories, also widely cited AP reporting — quotes from officials, on-the-ground details and photos from Nagpal and Singh — in its own stand-alone story on Monday.
For powerful ground reporting under challenging conditions and swift reporting on key developments, the AP team earns Best of the Week — Second Winner.