The Delhi government is yet to formulate a heat action plan this summer but state-run hospitals say they are prepared to treat people suffering from heat-related problems
With the Met department predicting an exceptionally hot summer this year, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has sounded out vulnerable states an early warning against the imminent heat. But the Delhi government still does not have a heat action plan and citizens are yet to understand the magnitude of heat stress, as there is total absence of any form of communication in this regard.
More than 2,400 people died in India during heat wave of 2015, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). And the actual temperatures can go higher than what is reported in news as seen in the case of Delhi.
“We are using geographical information systems plotting heat gradient maps for cities. Through satellite data we found the maximum temperature in Delhi to be as high as 52 degrees,” Rohit Magotra, Assistant Director, Integrated Research for Action and Development (IRADe) told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “There are only few stations in Delhi and they are not measuring temperatures across the city.” IRADe is a research institute working in the areas of environment and climate change, urban development and energy, among others.
A comparison of heat gradient maps of Delhi show that the minimum temperature in the month of May has increased from 21.93 degrees Celsius to 29.53 degrees between 2013 to 2017.
Despite increasing warnings and projections of high heat events for the coming years, public recognition of the magnitude of the problem remains low, experts say. Further, administrative support systems generally lack preparedness measures and are not scientifically robust to understand impacts of heat stress on human health and productivity, they say.
To fill this gap, IRADe is helping the Delhi government come up with a heat action plan that will be taken up by the municipalities. The project will develop spatially differentiated and gender sensitive Heat Stress Action Plan for Delhi and two other cities (Bhubaneswar in Odisha and Rajkot in Gujarat) with the funding from International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada in association with Indian Institute of Public Health (Gandhinagar and Bhubaneswar), and Odisha State Disaster Management Agency.
Some of the objectives of the project are to identify spatial vulnerability of populations during extreme heat events in selected areas; identify the impacts of extreme heat events on the health, work productivity and livelihoods of vulnerable population, to select appropriate, innovative and affordable climate adaptation measures for improving health and livelihood resilience for the urban population with consideration of gender-based implications, to strengthen the capacity of key stakeholders through training opportunities and to facilitate active use of information and evidence for policy-makers to drive the implementation of the Heat Stress Action Plans into municipal disaster strategies.
The project is currently in the first phase where research is on-going to understand the heat vulnerable areas of Delhi and its effect on various populations over two summer seasons.
“It is not just about temperature. We don’t know at what temperature, heat can kill a person, as there are various factors. For instance, in Odisha humidity plays a big role in increasing heat stress even if the temperatures are not as high as Delhi. Also, people are better adapted in rural areas than in urban settings,” said Magotra. “Delhi gets lot of migrant population and these people from rural areas have natural ways of adaptation like sleeping on open terrace, wearing turbans, etc., which they are not able to follow when they shift to Delhi. Also, it matters where a person is coming from. For example, a person from Kashmir would be able to cope much less to heat compared to a person coming from a hotter region.”
The plan is expected to be ready by 2019. However, given the adverse forecast of a hot summer ahead, experts have decided not to wait for it and issue heat advisories with the help of the municipalities during peak heat this summer.
Delhi is late in formulating a heat action plan as compared to other cities mainly because of multiple agencies and lack of coordination between them. The plan would be adopted first by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and then by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).
Hospitals are prepared
Despite the lack of any systemic approach by the Delhi government to combat heat stress cases in the city, government-run hospitals are geared up to treat patients affected by extreme heat and humidity.
Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) in central Delhi, which has registered three to four cases of patients suffering from heat stress per day last year during the summer months, is not taking any chances this year.
“We are fully equipped to deal with heat stress related cases this year. The emergency section of the hospital is fully air-conditioned with around seven doctors available per shift and ten nurses to handle patients who come to casualty. There are paramedics in good number to attend to emergencies. We have 55 beds available in the Medicine emergency section where we will treat patients who will be admitted for heat stroke, dehydration and other heat related complaints. We have also stored adequate fluids for IV drips and for hydrotherapy,” Ritu Saxena, chief of Accident and Emergency Section at LNJP hospital, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “Circulars and notices have been sent out to all relevant departments to alert the emergency section on complaints of heat stress.”
The Chief Medical Officer of Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Namita Rai, said that the hospital has a well-equipped casualty section, fully air-conditioned and fitted with air purifiers. According to her, the hospital has stocked up on fluids for intravenous drips and medicines to deal with patients affected by the heat as temperature begins an upward swing.
K. K. Aggarwal, former president of the Indian Medical Association and a cardiologist, is of the opinion that both the central and state governments must put concerted efforts to raise awareness on the adverse effect of heat waves and how best to protect people from exposure to extreme temperatures in summer.
“Just as everyone is now aware of the pollution index, the government must also put out the heat index in different parts of Delhi so that citizens are aware and can avoid staying out in the heat for too long,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “The best indicator of someone suffering from heat stress is to do the arm pit test. If the armpits are dry, then it is a sign of heat affecting the body, which could lead to exhaustion, diarrhoea and even heat stroke. Wear light cotton clothes, keep yourself hydrated and avoid moving out in the heat when heat index is high.”