Developing nations are demanding a financial mechanism to deal with climate disasters at the global summit in Bonn, even as heat waves start affecting millions of workers in countries like India and China
Jagdish Patra had not being feeling too well since over a month. The 53-year-old worked as a security guard at a large garment store in eastern India’s Bhubaneswar city. Starting with the discount sale in March, the month in 2017 that was declared the city’s historical hottest, the June local festival sale had seen high footfall. Standing outside in the 38 degrees Celsius heat and high humidity, opening the door, and directing customer parking, he felt exhausted and dizzy. He wanted a couple of days off but knew it would be denied. As the only earning member of his family, with two unmarried girls and no farmland to fall back on, he desperately needed the job.
On a mid-June day at noon, he just crumbled at the store entrance. Administered saline at a hospital, he was discharged the next day. Patra boarded a bus for his village and for several months suffered bouts of dizziness, fatigue and mental confusion. He never returned to the city. His daughters did, got jobs at sales girls and, being young, bore up better to the urban heat islands that India’s fast growing cities have become.
Patra is not an isolated case. More than one billion workers already grapple with dozens of additional extremely hot days in a year due to climate change. Most vulnerable countries are losing more than 2% of all available work time due to a lower productivity of labour, according to a 2016 UN Development Programme and International Labour Organisation study.
The study warns that South Asian countries will be the most affected by rising temperatures in productivity losses. Already, up to 10-15% of annual daylight hours are so hot that productivity is lost. By the end of the century, this will increase in the hottest areas even if global temperatures are held at 1.5 degrees Celsius. But in the business-as-usual scenario of 4 degrees Celsius, the daylight hour productivity loss will double to 30%.
In the last decade, there has been more than a 2,300% increase in the loss of human life from heat waves as a result of less than 1 degree Celsius warming. By 2100, under current emission of greenhouse gasses, three of four people in the world will be exposed to deadly heat conditions every year, says a new study.
Camilo Mora, lead author of Twenty-Seven Ways a Heat Wave Can Kill You: Deadly Heat in the Era of Climate Change, warns against the assumption that the elderly, the sick and only some heat-susceptible sectors and those engaged in strenuous outdoor activity are at risk, and against a false sense of security for those who are not in any of these vulnerable groups.
Such optimism is unwarranted because there are 27 ways things that can go wrong during a heat wave, affecting seven vital organs, finds the study published on November 9 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. “Heat damaging mechanisms in the body can be triggered any time heat conditions are experienced and they can happen to anyone, young and old alike,” Mora from the University of Hawaii Manoa told indiaclimatedialogue.net over email.
This offers an explanation why over 70,000 people perished to the extreme heat of the 2003 European heat wave, more than 10,000 people to the 2010 Russian heat wave and over 2,000 to the 2015 Indian heat wave.
Cost of high heat
Although the intensity of heat is measured in number of deaths caused, the livelihoods loss and health costs to this slow onset climate disaster places extreme heat in this century among other major disasters like hurricanes and floods, even though effects of high heat aren’t always so quickly seen. For the first time, the Global Climate Risk Index 2018 has assessed heat waves as a major extreme weather event, which impacts the global south more economically.
Released on November 9 by Berlin-based think tank Germanwatch, the ranking report finds that out of the 10 most disaster-affected countries in the period between 1997 and 2016, nine are developing countries in the low income or lower-middle income group. Loss of life, personal hardship and existential threats are much more widespread in low-income countries and among large populations of the poor in developing countries like India, it says. See: Climate risk perilously high in India
“Developing countries are demanding a dedicated and robust system to identify and develop a range of financial instruments that can address various types of impacts on countries (from climate disasters),” Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change and India Chairperson for Alliance for Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (AADRR) told indiaclimatedialogue.net via email from Bonn. “However, developed countries, particularly the US, EU and Australia, are blocking any progress on finance at the ongoing climate talks in Bonn.”
A 5-year work plan of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) is likely to be adopted at the Bonn summit. Presided over by Fiji, the small island state is leading global South’s urgent push to put a long-term climate disaster recovery and resilience system in place under the Paris Agreement’s loss and damage mechanism.
Disasters can cause near-poor or those living on USD 1.90 and USD 3.10 per day to fall through the crack into poverty, underscores the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in its Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2017 released last month.
“The Executive Committee of the WIM has already conducted a survey of developing countries and other relevant stakeholders to understand their comprehensive risk management approaches. Also, a draft compilation of case studies has been put together on ongoing relevant scientific and practical work to catalogue existing information and case studies,” Singh said.
India is the sixth worst affected country from climate-related disasters in 2016, with 2,119 lives lost and economic loss of USD 21.8 billion, according to the climate risk index. The report also finds the 2016 heat waves that broke records at 51 degrees Celsius in Rajasthan, persisting droughts and worsening water shortages affected around 330 million people in India last year. 2013-2017 is set to be the warmest 5-year period on record, the UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has declared.
By 2010, when heat stress was just about emerging in the public conversation, India’s annual losses were up to USD 55 billion. By 2030, annual GDP losses of India and China could total USD 450 billion, according to an earlier study by Tord Kjellstrom of the New Zealand-based Health and Environment International Trust.
India with it 1.3 billion population, a major section of whom live on USD 1.90 per day, have many more jobs done by human labour rather than machines. India’s urban growth, its construction boom fed by rural migration where the informal sector workers have little or no legal labour entitlements is also a factor that exacerbates their plight during extreme temperatures.
The 5th Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that at 4 degree Celsius warming, work output in heat-vulnerable sectors would fall by as much as 20% in the second half of the century. As early as 2030, the global cost of reduced productivity may be more than USD 2 trillion.
Managing extreme heat
Workers and employers need protection to health, income and steady output. The measures to do this does exist but entails costs and involves aggravating greenhouse gases as in the case of air-conditioning, which itself is cost and energy intensive. The risks will become increasingly less manageable and costly if left unaddressed, according to the UNDP study.
To manage the extreme temperature, India has heat action plans in three cities with more preparing to follow. Construction workers and those engaged in outdoor work under the government’s rural income generation schemes are rested whole afternoons with work starting earlier to make up for the lost hours. It is mandatory for tarpaulins to be strung up for shade and earthen pots of cool water provided with first-aid kits for every outdoor working group.
In an attempt to acclimatise to high temperature, outdoor workers are seen voluntarily adopting self-pacing, which means they take more rest and work slower, but this reduces overall output, with wage loss of five to 10 days in a month. However, 100% protective coverage or self-pacing is not possible for they require money for even basic needs as seen in cases of informal workers like Patra. “For the most vulnerable poorer countries, many of the population cannot afford air-conditioning and hi-tech alert systems,” Mora told indiaclimatedialogue.net.