Some cities in central and coastal India are preparing for a hotter-than-ever summer with regional heat action plans that aim to safeguard public health among vulnerable populations such as outdoor workers, schoolchildren and the elderly
India will implement regional heat action plans this summer around Nagpur and Bhubaneshwar to help local authorities and public health officials fight frequent heat waves that cause distress and several hundreds of deaths every year.
Searing temperatures in the past few years have disrupted life and precipitated a public health crisis in many parts of the country. Last year was the hottest on record, tracking a global trend of increasingly warmer summers brought on by climate change. Areas in central India around Nagpur and in Bhubaneshwar near the east coast saw the mercury shoot up to close to 50 degrees Celsius in 2015, India Meteorological Department (IMD) data show.
The regional plan for Nagpur in Maharashtra includes the nearby cities of Chandrapur, Gondia, Nanded and Jalgaon, home to some four million people. This dry Vidarbha region has seen temperatures in excess of 45 degrees in the long summers of the past seven consecutive years.
The Bhubaneshwar plan feeds into the disaster management system in Odisha, a state regularly battered by extreme weather events such as droughts and cyclones. In 1998, Odisha faced unprecedented heat waves, resulting in the death of 2,042 people. The state has since begun an extensive heat awareness campaign to reduce casualties. Odisha endured widespread heat wave conditions in 2014 and 2015.
The action plans are a result of a partnership between provincial, municipal and public health officials, the Met department and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international non-profit organization.
These plans will enable an early warning system for residents, provide training to medical and community workers, open cooling centres, build public awareness of heat-related health risks, and coordinate inter-agency emergency response efforts.
This year’s initiative follows the successful implementation of a heat action plan in Ahmedabad, the most populous city in the western state of Gujarat, in 2015. It was the first such effort in South Asia. The large heat island over Ahmedabad resulted in over 800 deaths in just a week that ended on May 27, 2010, adding to 1,344 mortalities in that month alone.
“Ahmedabad’s innovative model for preparing vulnerable populations for rising temperatures, such as schoolchildren, the elderly, the poor and outdoor laborers, has been incredibly effective,” said Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health in state capital Gandhinagar.
During the 2015 heat wave that left 2,300 dead across the country, fewer than 20 heat-related deaths were reported in Ahmedabad, he said. “That is impressive in a city that is home to over seven million people.” The institute was an early partner in developing the plan.
The Indian government actively supports heat resilience efforts. The national Met department provides a five-day forecast to over 100 cities to boost capacity of municipal authorities to warn citizens and respond to looming heat waves.
“We recognize the urgent and growing need to support cities’ ability to prepare for forecasted heat waves, as climate change increases temperatures and the frequency and severity of heat waves,” said L.S. Rathore, director general of IMD. “We are working with local IMD offices in key cities to ensure our forecasting tools can help advance these adaptation efforts and protect local communities.”