FEATURE: A tale of three cities – Heat Action Plans across India
Anjali Jaiswal and Jessica Korsh of the Natural Resources Defense Council describe how Heat Action Plans they have devised with local governments, supported by CDKN, are being rolled out across India as temperatures peak. This article first appeared on the NRDC blog.
It’s only May, and we are already seeing record-breaking temperatures across the globe. April 2016 was the warmest April ever recorded globally, increasing the odds that 2016 could be the hottest year on record, beating records for the fourth consecutive year. India hit its hottest temperature ever with 51°C (123.8°F) in Phalodi, Rajasthan. Ahmedabad, Gujarat soared to 46.9°C (116.4°F), surpassing the previous record of 46.8°C (116.2°F) from the city’s deadly heat wave in May 2010. Some temperatures reported crossed 50°C (122°F) and local TV debated over which temperature is more accurate. Over 2,300 heat related fatalities occurred last year across India. However, less than 20 of these reported deaths (less than 1%) occurred in Ahmedabad, home to 7.2 million people.
The Indian Meteorological Department has been integral in heat wave preparedness efforts. The Meteorological Department now provides a 5-day forecast to over 100 cities in India. This March, the Meteorological Department issued its first ever season outlook warming of “above normal temperatures in January and February”, warmer than normal hot season and average temperatures across northwest India are expected to be “above normal by more than 1.0°C.”
Heat Action Plans – Three Regions Spanning Ten Cities
Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, showed that preparing for the harmful effects of extreme heat does not need to be complicated. Through the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, governments, health officials, and communities promote simple and practical actions such as drinking water and avoiding the sun that will immediately save lives. Building on the success in Ahmedabad, Three regions spanning ten cities have now launched Heat Action Plans. The regions of Nagpur in Maharashtra and Bhubaneswar in Odisha launched Heat Action Plans in March 2016 in advance of heat season. The record-breaking temperatures this heat seasons are certainly testing the new plans.
While Ahmedabad has provided a model framework for heat wave preparedness, threshold temperatures in other cities and states may need to be adjusted for local weather conditions. Correlation of daily temperature and mortality is an integral part of establishing safe (temperature) thresholds. The central Indian Meteorological Department, located in New Delhi, continues to work closely with local Meteorological Department offices.
Ahmedabad, Gujarat: Tremendous public awareness has proven immensely effective in mitigating heat related deaths. Heat Action Plan information is disseminated by informational materials (billboards and advertisements) and more recently through the use of technology such as the mobile application WhatsApp, Facebook, and text messages. During this month, the city’s Municipal Corporation issued an extreme heat alert (red) for three days indicating that mean temperatures will be 45°C (113°F) or greater. Residents have been asked to drink 6-7 litres of water a day and avoid going out in the open sun between 11am-6pm.
Nagpur Region Highlights
Nagpur, Maharashtra: Through exemplary leadership (Maharashtra State Public Health Department and Nagpur Municipal Corporation) the Nagpur Regional Heat Action Plan has led to coordination among Nagpur and four neighbouring cities, creating the first regional approach to heat wave planning in India. Analysis of mortality rates in Nagpur indicated setting a threshold temperature of 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 elderly, as part of the Heat Action Plan. This year, 340 heat illness cases have already been reported. The number of heat related deaths is uncertain at this time, but could be as high as 16. A committee has been formed to assess whether these 16 deaths were heat related. Tremendous Heat Action Plan publicity is occurring in Nagpur, as well as citizen awareness walks in Gondia, Chandrapur, Nanded and Jalgaon.
Odisha Region Highlights
Bhubaneswar, Odisha: this year Bhubaneswar has already experienced record breaking heat with temperatures reaching 45.8°C (144.4°F). Odisha’s Heat Action Plan was rapidly integrated into the existing state-wide advanced disaster management system. The Odisha State Disaster Management Authority along with the local Meteorological Department have issued heatwave warnings. Together with media and civil society groups, Odisha is conducting community outreach ad providing water to vulnerable groups. Odisha is still developing a threshold temperature to issue heat alerts via emails and text messages to government departments and the media.
These three highlighted cities have demonstrated India’s commitment to quickly, yet effectively advance, their heat resilience efforts. Heat waves will continue to affect India, particularly in a warming world. Based on the recent record breaking temperatures, Heat Action Plans cannot come fast enough. Ahmedabad’s partners in development of the Heat Action Plan and the new regional Heat Action Plan include the Indian Institute of Public Health, Public Health Foundation of India, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, University of Washington (School of Medicine), Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and supported by the Climate Development Knowledge Network. The state of Telangana in south India is also developing a heat action plan and the National Disaster Management Authority is planning to expand Heat Action Plans across India.
Read more about CDKN’s project work
Project description: Deepening and expanding heat health action in India
Blog by Mihir Bhatt: Severe heat wave grips India
Blog by Nehmat Kaur and Abhiyhant Tiwari: This Study Can Help Traffic Cops And Outdoor Workers Who Are Reeling Under The Heat Wave
Main image credit: United Nations