Indian cities need to formulate and implement heat protection policies to safeguard the lives and health of their citizens as the death toll caused by heatwaves continue to rise. This year alone 36 people died in different parts of the country because of heatwaves. The major problem of not having resources and capacity, and lack of data to asses and handle the issue must be addressed adequately at the local level. Municipalities can help the state governments in reaching out to citizens to make them aware of do’s and don’ts
Heat Waves are increasingly becoming a matter of concern among the stakeholder dealing with natural disasters. Heatwaves are known to be “Silent killers” amongst the natural disasters of hydro-meteorological origin. The impact of heatwaves may not be visible at large scale like when an earthquake or cyclone hits but the increasing death toll tells a different tale.
In India, heat waves have killed 36 people this year alone. CNN reported that intense heat has scorched the country for more than 30 consecutive days, primarily in northern and central India. Temperatures reached 48 degrees Celsius in New Delhi on June 10 — the highest ever recorded in the capital in June. The situation is grim not only in India but also in other cities of the world. According to a recent study published by Science Advances, most of the cities in the USA, Europe, Africa and Asia will witness in the rise of temperature thus more causalities are in offing if we do mend our ways and limit further temperature rise.
According to a report by National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), the 2010 Indian heatwave can be considered a wakeup call that inter-governmental agency action, preparedness and community outreach become imperative to prevent loss of life due to such extreme events. In India, 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year in a global temperature record that stretches back to 1880s. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of planetary warming that scientists predict is a consequence of anthropogenic emissions and poses profound long term risk to civilization.
Addressing the issue of heatwaves and climate change requires both rapid mitigation of carbon emissions and widespread adoption of urban climate adaptation strategies at all levels—personal, business and government levels.
According to the definition published by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Heat Wave need not be considered till the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40 degree Celsius for plains and at least 30 degree Celsius for hilly regions. Such situations are becoming more intense and frequent worldwide due to climate change. Even the hill stations like Shimla, Nainital and Dharamshala are witnessing temperature above 30 degree Celsius on a regular basis. It is having a devastating impact on human health thereby increasing the number of heatwave casualties. Studies suggest that heatwaves increase the incidence of illness and death — particularly among vulnerable population groups such as older people, people with a pre-existing medical condition and people with a disability.
There are a few cities in India which have developed fool-proof plans to address the situation and mitigate the losses. Ahmedabad is one of the few cities which had prepared and implemented the Heat Action Plan after heat waves in 2010 resulted in more than 1,300 deaths. The State Disaster Management Plan of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha also mentions Heat Waves under disaster category and keeps monitoring the situation during the months of March-June.
When Odisha faced an extraordinary heatwave situation in 1998 and 2042 persons lost their lives, the government took cognizance of it and ran extensive awareness campaigns to make citizens aware of the situation and thus managed to minimize the losses to under 100 despite temperature rising in the state. The state has also improved its warning system through various available tools. Once the heatwave warning is issued, the state also makes drinking water supply arrangements, reschedules timing in educational institutions and working hours, especially of those doing physical labour, undertakes veterinary measures, calibrates bus timings, etc. These small steps have helped them in reducing the number of causalities. All the cities which are facing similar situation can learn from the experiences of Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Urban Local Bodies can support their local community and vulnerable population groups to adapt to heatwaves. Ahmedabad city has set an example with its detailed heat action plan that was first prepared in 2013 by the Amdavad Municipal Corporation with help from national and international experts and learning from global best practices on early warning systems and heat adaptation
Urban Local Bodies can support their local community and vulnerable population groups to adapt to heatwaves. Ahmedabad has set an example with its detailed heat action plan that was first prepared in 2013 by the Amdavad Municipal Corporation with help from national and international experts and learning from global best practices on early warning systems and heat adaptation. The plan was again updated in 2015. The plan can be used by other corporations too as a case study to formulate their immediate and longer-term actions and improve preparedness, information-sharing, and response coordination to reduce the health impacts of extreme heat on vulnerable populations.
The Heat Action Plan of Ahmedabad aims to provide a framework for the implementation, coordination, and evaluation of extreme heat response activities in the city that reduce the negative health impacts of extreme heat. The primary objective is to alert those populations most at risk of heat-related illness that extreme heat conditions either exist or are imminent and to take appropriate precautions. Extreme heat planning includes—identifying vulnerable populations and the health risks specific to each group; developing effective strategies, agency coordination, and response planning to shape a Heat Action Plan that addresses heat-health risks; Implementing the Heat Action Plan and activating heat alerts; and Evaluating and updating the Heat Action Plan regularly.
In summer 2016, the NDMA launched a series of initiatives to mitigate the deadly impact of heatwaves, including opening shelters for homeless people, adjusting state government working hours to avoid extreme hot weather, establishing drinking water kiosks, and painting roofs white to reduce heat absorption. As a result, the country has seen a dramatic drop in deaths from heatwaves in recent years. In 2015, more than 2,400 people died in a heatwave. The following year, a heatwave killed 250 people. This indicates that formulation and implementation of national policy on heatwaves are also required to make ill-equipped municipal corporations aware about the seriousness of the issues and handhold them on how to mitigate the risks associated with heatwaves.