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Here Comes The Sun

Heat-wave action plans can help city administrations cope with the worst of summer

Updated: June 5, 2019 12:27:40 am
heatwave, weather today, temperature today, heatwave deaths, summer deaths, summer temperature A Man crosses road by covering himself under the scorching sun in New Delhi (Express photo/Praveen Khanna/File)

Written by Sujata Saunik, Dileep Mavalankar and Mahaveer Golechha

We assume that all Indians are used to heat and heat waves kill only an unfortunate handful. The realities of climate change seem to have changed this perception. Data from deaths in Ahmedabad in 2010 showed for the first time that 800 additional deaths occurred during the first week of the heat wave. This was unprecedented. Ahmedabad city developed the first Heat Action Plan (HAP), learning from European and American countries.

A heat-wave action plan aims to provide a framework for planning, implementation, coordination and evaluation of extreme heat response activities in cities/towns that reduces the negative impact of extreme heat on the health of the population. The plan’s primary objective is to alert those at risk of heat-related illness in places where extreme heat conditions either exist or are imminent.

Through the exemplary leadership of Maharashtra’s Public Health Department and the Nagpur Municipal Corporation, the Nagpur Regional HAP has coordinated between Nagpur and four neighbouring cities, creating the first regional approach to heat wave planning in India. Based on a scientific approach using climatic data and health data, the threshold temperature for Nagpur has been identified as 43°C (109.4°F) for a heat alert day (orange) and extreme heat alert day (red) for temperatures of 45°C (113°F) or greater. Nagpur has also identified particularly vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly. There has been tremendous publicity about the HAP in Nagpur. Other cities like Gondia, Chandrapur, Nanded, Jalgaon are following suit. Citizens are actively involved with the HAP and have carried out awareness marches. These cities are also using social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread awareness and document the actions taken.

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Nagpur formulated its heat action plan with technical inputs from the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar (IIPHG) and the support of the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) in 2016. Since then, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation has been using this plan to provide information to citizens and keeping track of heat stroke patients.

As global warming and rising temperatures are affecting communities and regions, particularly in central India, it has become imperative to support city administrations to prepare, activate and update their HAPs with each season and develop capacity both in handling periods of extreme heat as well as making communities both aware of and resilient to the impacts of the changing climate.

Recently, Nagpur has also been identified by the Department of Science and Technology under the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change (NMSKCC) for the development and testing of a robust and scientific Heat Action Plan. Under this initiative, a more scientific approach will be incorporated into the city’s existing HAP. Climate data from the last 15-20 years will be correlated with the mortality and morbidity data of Nagpur city to prepare a heat stress index and city-specific threshold. Vulnerable areas and population will be identified by using GIS and satellite imagery for targeted actions. A system will be developed for monitoring the implementation and measuring the impact of heat action plan in mortality and morbidity.

The need for an active plan operated by city corporations, which involves all the key stakeholders in the city — not just the civic departments but various associations, civil society organisations and media — to operate an HAP is the hallmark of a prepared community which can offset the worst impacts of heat waves. Providing quality healthcare, particularly to the young and elderly, in a timely fashion is a key component and test of such a plan.

Saunik, IAS, is currently Takemi Fellow at Harvard University, Mavalankar is director, IIPHG and Golechha is with IIPHG.
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