Sizzling heat has lately affected people's life considerably in India, exposing them to severe temperatures and public health risks. This continuous heat wave so far has killed more than 2,300 people through June 2015 this year. Heat waves in India are an annual recurring phenomenon with extreme events striking in 1998, 2002, 2003 2010 and most recently in June this year (2015).
The scientific community considers that the rising global temperature will result in even more severe heat waves. This problem is going to be exacerbated by the urban heat island effect in cities. This will have a tremendous impact on the public health of city communities including a rise in fatalities. Many cities are responding to these challenges by implementing localised heat management programmes that actively diffuse the negative impacts caused by the extreme heat waves.
Odisha became the first state in India to implement a heat plan dealing with these challenges as part of its disaster management plan. The state engaged lower levels of the government in the preparation of its plan, implementation and information dissemination. Many other cities in India have also devised their own strategies to minimise the impact of heat waves.
The city of Ahmedabad became the first city in the country to come up with a dynamic action plan to provide solutions to heat waves. This plan was developed by Mr Tejas Shah from Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) with cooperation from Mr Dileep Mavalankar from the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), Ms Anjali Jaiswal from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Ms Meredith Connolly from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT).
The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan incorporates short and long term actions to increase the preparedness of government machinery, shares information among communities and implements responses to minimise health implications of extreme heat on people. In a nutshell, this plan provides a comprehensive strategy demonstrating how knowledge, awareness and responses during heat wave could prepare a city for extreme weather events. This plan showcases how a low cost and quickly deployable plan can help in saving precious lives.
This very forward-looking measure taken up by an Indian city should encouragement other cities to come forward to comprehensively prepare their own heat preparedness plans. Learning from the city of Ahmedabad, during a country wide experience sharing workshop held in the city in April this year (2015), the city of Nagpur, under the leadership of Ms Sujata Saunik, Principal Secretary, Maharashtra is spearheading a campaign to devise its own heat action plan. To take it forward, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation organised a two-day workshop in early May (2015) to discuss and deliberate on the effects of heat waves and draw from experiences of the city of Ahmedabad. Nagpur experiences high temperatures now exceeding 450C in the summer season. This is increasing the vulnerability of its citizens, especially slum populations.
An extreme heat scenario has prompted the preparation of Heat Action Plan for Nagpur that increases city resilience to heat.
The city of Surat, taking its cue from Ahmedabad, has also taken measures including cool roofs and passive ventilation technologies to combat heat stress. Unlike other two cities, it is yet to formulate a Heat Action Plan.
While these measures are currently being undertaken on a voluntary basis, a strong need is being felt to upscale such Heat Action Plans both across cities and in all states. A long-term view of dealing with heat waves through a national strategy will help both the states and cities deal with the problem. A careful integration of urban climate models in planning for the cities along with incorporation of climate resilient elements in its design can minimise the possible impacts of heat waves. This should include consideration of the causes of mortality.
We can draw a lot of learning from the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan. It has brought together government agencies to work on a strategy that reduces heat vulnerabilities. Regular interactions, information sharing and active implementation has helped in making this a success. Here, the executive wing of the AMC played a critical role in materialising the plan by making it actionable. It actively engaged with communities to reduce the mortality rates.
Heat wave phenomena are not confined to India. It is emerging as a global hazard. The European Heat Wave in 2003, Russian Heat Wave in 2010 and Australian Heat wave in 2013 shows their worldwide geographic spread. This year not only India, but Pakistan and other Asian countries were also affected by heat waves. 1400 deaths were reported in Karachi and adjoining areas of Sindh alone in the month of June 2015.
While extreme heat increasingly affects broader geographies, it becomes essential that we devise comprehensive global, regional and national strategies to deal with this situation. This will help cities to cope better with the emerging challenges propelled by rising temperatures. Such initiatives would contribute to the broader process of integrated planning for natural hazards and disaster preparedness.