Severe heat wave grips India – Authorities can draw on insights from Ahmedabad experience
By Mihir Bhatt
The present situation
Over 150 citizens have died due to the overlap of heat wave and drought conditions in India this summer.
India is under the grip of deadly heat wave conditions as large areas are blazing under the sun: Odisha and Telengana have seen over 100 casualties so far this summer.
The heat wave is not only affecting citizens in towns and big cities but also in rural areas where farmers and large number of women work as casual labourers to prepare for next harvest.
The heat wave is refusing to slow down with temperature crossing 45oC in several pockets, time and again. Such heat dries local water bodies and makes soil harder to plough in the upcoming pre-monsoon season.
According to the private weather forecasting agency Skymet, Odisha on the East Indian coast continues to top the list of hottest states.
Vidarbha region of Maharashtra is also not far behind. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, North Karnataka, Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, East Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Gangetic West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are all reeling under hot weather conditions. The heat wave is slowing down day-to-day business causing delays in the economic activities of local markets.
The abnormally increased temperatures can be attributed to the prevailing El Nino phenomenon, which has been termed as the strongest on record – although the scientific verdict on this is still awaited. Last year also, the two states of Andra Pradesh and Telangana were not spared: then, they reported 2,000 deaths due to intense heat wave conditions.
Moreover, pre-monsoon showers have been absent. North, East and Central India have remained dry. The drought situation is very intense. The country is reeling under one of the worst droughts ever, which, according to the Indian government, has affected 256 of the total 765 districts; this is slightly more than one third of the geographical area of the country. Approximately 330 million people in these 256 districts have been affected by the severe drought which has created distress in agriculture and the rural economy.
Preparedness and response measures
Heat wave preparedness across India, in fact South Asia, may be one of the concrete follow up measures to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) which demanded integration of disaster risk reduction with climate change adaptation. CDKN and ODI have supported India’s National Disaster Management Authority find ways to address such integration.
CDKN and its partners have been at the forefront of demonstrating effective responses: in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, a Heat Wave Action Plan initiative is led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Indian Institute of Public Health, with the support of CDKN. They are bolstered by the efforts of the Indian Meteorological Department, which has taken key steps over the past three years to make heat wave prediction more accurate in Indian cities.
CDKN becomes the first among its peers in Asia to reach out to both, the lives of millions of citizens as well as influence policy makers after COP21 Agreement in Paris with a wide range of solutions for moving towards climate compatible development. In some ways implementing INDCs in India has started.
CDKN has made a historic difference in making over 10 million people in three cities of India aware of the upcoming heat wave this summer, and making three leading cities prepared to ensure that there are no causalities related to heat stress.
The three leading cities are Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Bhubaneswar in Odisha and Nagpur in Maharashtra.
The summer of 2016 marks the fourth year running that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is launching a Heat Action Plan. The focus is on protecting lives as well as livelihoods of people of Ahmedabad.
AMC will protect children in schools, street vendors in open markets, and construction workers across the city.
The traffic police, under raw heat all day, will receive special attention this year.
The Mayor will himself go out to the hotspots to monitor performance of mitigation measures of the plan launched today. Ahmedabad is first among “100 Smart Cities” programme of Government of India to have Heat Action Plan in India.
Together, NRDC, IIPH, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), CDKN and others have documented their experiences extensively in an Inside Story on Climate Compatible Development and a Learning Paper from the successful project.
Heat wave preparedness such as this must ‘lift lives’ as Shri Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs of India, Government of India said while accepting the honour Asian Championship for implementing SFDRR in Delhi in November 2015.
Women and young people at the forefront of climate adaptation action
As Aditi Kapoor, CDKN’s partner and leading climate justice activist in India has often pointed out, extreme events such as heat waves slow down poor women’s efforts to come out of poverty and contribute to national economic development.
The Ahmedabad heat wave preparedness plan shows that women hawkers and street vendors are natural and easy brokers of learning around how to deal with heat wave. They pick up measures to respond as well as pass on the message to other women and children in the city.
As Sarabjit Singh of UNICEF points out schools are also good locations to spread risk awareness among young citizens.
Scaling up success
Now, fortunately, raising awareness about climate-related risks to lives, livelihoods and development potential is coming out as a prime focus across India’s disaster authorities as Kamal Lochan Mishra of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority reports.
Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) is soon taking this initiative to cities of Rajkot and Surat in Gujarat. As Anju Sharma, CEO, Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority has pointed out citizen-led innovation is the best way to improve up on such early warnings.
Bhubaneswar is not the only city in Odisha to be prepared. Odisha State Disaster Management Authority with Indian Institute of Public Health in Bhubaneswar has taken up several cities in Odisha under the statewide plan. This is partly possible due to knowledge sharing across cities.
Nagpur decided to lead cities in Maharashtra to be prepared for heat wave casualties. Maharashtra faces highest loss of lives when heat wave strikes India. Maharashtra State Health Department is leading the way by learning from Ahmedabad’s experience.
Meanwhile, a consensus is growing among key UN and national authorities to explore how the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s heat action plan can be presented to the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in November 2016 in India. This would help in not only taking stock of the results but initiate an Asia-wide response to heat waves in coming decades.
Cities in Pakistan such as Karachi are learning from cities in India such as Ahmedabad and CDKN is supporting cross-border knowledge exchange.
More possible solutions to explore
There is always more work to be done.
“What can be added in to heat wave planning is participatory monitoring and accountability” suggests the Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad, D. Thara, who is keen for the heat action plan to have a significant, positive impact on the lives of citizens of Ahmedabad.
India’s Supreme Court has told the national government that three central statutes — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MNREGA), Food Security and Disaster Management — must be implemented properly to ensure people are able to survive the situation in the drought-hit regions. This in many ways leads to integration of pro-poor, food, and disaster risk reduction policies at the community level.
The Supreme Court is hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, which has sought various directives from the court to help drought-hit regions in the country and to ameliorate the condition of farmers.
All the above mentioned initiatives are promising. However, more needs to be done to make India truly safe from these threats. Further, important questions need to be raised and answered.
These include the following, pressing questions:
- All cities and towns cannot afford to make heat wave plans. So where is concessional financing which can help achieve bigger goals for smaller towns?
- Moreover, what kind of knowledge and intelligence needs to be created and captured to make for effecting coping mechanisms against heat related stresses?
- Most importantly, what kind of technical inputs in the form of advanced predictive technology, GIS, data analytics will be needed by local city municipal administrations to make their citizens resilient to these stresses?