Putting heat adaptation plans into action: Ahmedabad shares lessons with leading Indian cities
By Anjali Jaiswal and Meredith Connolly
Along a busy street in Ahmedabad in the midst of 38°C (100°F) degree temperatures, a passer-by stopped in his tracks. He was reading a large hoarding (billboard) on how to keep cool in the sweltering temperatures.
Here in Ahmedabad, extreme heat can take a significant toll on residents' day-to-day lives. As temperatures around the globe inch up degree by degree due to climate change, the city is working toward protecting communities from rising temperatures and the deadly threat of extreme heat. After a devastating heat wave hit the city in 2010, experts estimated the heat contributed to more than 1,000 deaths. This week, the peak temperatures in Ahmedabad have been hovering between 37°C - 42°C (99°F - 108°F), offering a fitting backdrop to the challenges facing the city that is home to more than 7 million people.
Until recently, there was little communication of the health risks of heat waves to people coping with these conditions. But since 2013, the city's awareness-building materials like these hoardings, paired with straight-forward measures like training medical staff to diagnose heat-related illnesses, stocking emergency rooms with ice packs and the creation of an early warning system with alerts issued through media (TV, radio, newspapers), text messages, and the mobile application WhatsApp, have made headway in reducing heat-related illnesses and deaths in Ahmedabad.
The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan was launched in 2013 by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in collaboration with NRDC, the Public Health Foundation of India - Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (IIPH), and other international partners, along with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). Given the significant progress in Ahmedabad and growing threats from rising temperature, leading cities and states across India are considering adopting similar plans.
Highlighting experience with Ahmedabad's plan and learning from global best practices, AMC, NRDC and our partners are convening a country-wide workshop this week to inform interested cities and government leaders about how to prepare their own early warning systems and heat preparation plans. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, former Minister of Health and Family Welfare, recognized these efforts last year and encouraged state officials to work with NRDC, IIPH and our partners to "replicate the 'early warning system' installed in Ahmedabad" in their states. At the workshop, government officials, leading scientists, academics and international experts from the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the Indian Meteorological Department, the National Institute of Disaster Management, the Government of Gujarat, the Government of Odisha and others will share their expertise in developing policies to build community resilience from extreme heat.
To kick off the two-day workshop today, along with IIPH, CDKN, Emory University, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, we honored the leadership of the AMC for launching South Asia's first Heat Action Plan and early warning system, which could be used as a model for similar adaptation plans throughout Asia. Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner D. Thara accepted an award for Innovative Climate Action Leadership, in recognition of the AMC's innovative and outstanding leadership in building disaster risk preparedness and community resilience to extreme heat.
The AMC also released the 2015 Heat Action Plan today, expanding its safety measures aimed at protecting the city's residents from rising temperatures. This year's heat action plan updates includes:
- Mapping high-risk areas, creating a list of 380 locations in the city that are considered more vulnerable to heat wave conditions;
- Expanding public outreach and communication on heat stress prevention methods in vulnerable communities, in part through targeted dissemination of educational materials and collaboration with community groups;
- Using modern media to issue heat alerts such as SMS, text messages, email, radio, WhatsApp, and potentially social media;
- Reducing heat exposure by increasing access to ice packs, potable drinking water, and cooling spaces during extreme heat days; and
- Increasing trainings among medical professionals, hospitals, emergency response staff, and community health staff, focused on recognizing and responding to heat-related illnesses.
The 2015 Heat Action Plan is available online (see the related links below) and includes a full list of the new and enhanced efforts to be launched as a party of this year's Plan. With many of Ahmedabad's most vulnerable communities living in dense urban areas and already hot temperatures projected to rise, the Plan can continue to help prepare and protect at-risk residents. Local, on-the-ground climate preparedness actions, like Ahmedabad's Heat Action Plan, are crucial in the global fight against climate change. We applaud Ahmedabad's leadership and look forward to working with other cities and states to craft similar plans to protect their residents from deadly heat.
Anjali I. Jaiswal is a senior attorney in the San Francisco office and works on the litigation team and India initiative. Meredith Connolly, NRDC Energy Law and Policy Fellow