Cities devise measures to tackle heat | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Cities devise measures to tackle heat

Apr 16, 2024 04:38 PM IST

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted above-normal temperatures this summer, and a heatwave streak that may last up to 20 days

Mist sprinklers as seen in some European and West Asian cities have been fitted at some traffic junctions at Kankaria Lakefront and its vicinity in Ahmedabad where the summer temperatures frequently go north of 40°C. The city municipality will make these mist-spraying systems a permanent feature with a few tweaks in as the summer progresses if the pilot project is found to provide relief from the heat.

Some cities will put up drinking water stations in high footfall areas. (Praful Gangurde/HT photo)
Some cities will put up drinking water stations in high footfall areas. (Praful Gangurde/HT photo)

To cope with this heat, especially in urban areas where is felt more due to the now well-understood heat island effect, as seen in Ahmedabad many cities are taking short-term adaptive measures. Madurai is holding medical camps in high-footfall areas, Bhubaneswar has prepared cool wards in hospitals, while traffic stoppages are reduced in Nagpur. When needed, school hours are staggered and putting a ban on construction pr other labour intensive activity between the peak heat hours between 12 pm to 3 pm .

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Measures such as these may prove helpful with the India Meteorological Department predicting above-normal temperatures this summer and heat wave days of up to 20 days on the back of India’s second warmest year on record in 2023. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too held a meeting with senior government officials to review the preparedness to deal with heatwaves as India goes to polls from April 19 to June 2.

Apart from these measures, cities are advocating the use of cost-effective measures such as cool roofs, and green roofs to reduce the heating of households. But in most large-scale adoption of such measures as seen in Ahmedabad and Jodhpur, have been led mostly by non-government sector. Telangana has a state-wide cool roof policy with a mandate for gradual increase of coverage.

There are also various greening initiatives in many Indian cities to provide shade and reducing the heat island effect. Kerala as part of its Resilient Kerala initiative, is running a ‘bare earth programme’ through which all abandoned buildings and grey infrastructure are being demolished.

The mist dispensers, novel in the Indian context in the form of mist dispensers is an extension of the city’s heat action plan (HAP) in place since 2013. Ahmedabad was the first in the country and south Asia to have such a plan put in place after a fatal heatwave in 2010. Since then, the plan has been updated regularly with active collaboration of non-government agencies since 2013 and put in action every summer involving multiple departments of the civic body and other government agencies. Following the footsteps of Ahmedabad, now more than 200 city/ districts have prepared their heat action plans as found by the NDMA during a review of preparedness held in February.

For this year, the municipal body in Ahmedabad had budgeted 50 lakh to implement the HAP. Dr Tejas Shah, deputy health officer, said, “Other than this there are other budgetary sources like that of promotion and publicity, that are tapped into to make necessary arrangements to put the heat action plan to work.”

The heat action plan prioritises on an early warning system which are issued based on the prediction made by the IMD which issues easy to understand colour-based warnings—yellow, orange and red. “We usually issue alerts on orange and red alerts days,” Shah said. He said for the warnings to be effective, over the years the civic body has been running awareness campaigns about the risks and best practices with regards to heat exposure. Other than TV, radio and pamphlets, this year, the city has put 10x10 ft large hoardings in 240 places and large screens in more than 60 spots.

Shah added, “The most vulnerable groups as we know are construction workers, factory staff, traffic police, elderly people, children, pregnant women, homeless and slum dwellers. We have identified strategy for each and every vulnerable group”. He said ASHA and anganwadi workers have been deployed since the start of summer to educate people about the necessary information. In addition, they carry ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) packets and supply them to the needy.

The city administration has arranged for drinking water facilities, ORS at more than 250 bus stations in the city and deployed seven mobile drinking water stations to tackle the issue of dehydration. Shah said in addition to the government’s efforts, the city administration is informed that there are 570 water stations that have been set up by non-government entities.

For the benefit of the homeless, 260 gardens across the city are kept open for the afternoon hours and they also have drinking water facilities. Further additional water arrangements are made in the 50 homeless shelters.

The estate department is also tasked with ensuring that all construction sites have adequate drinking water facilities for workers, Shah said. For red and orange alert days, there is a ban put in place between 12 pm and 4 pm.

C Dinesh Kumar, the municipal commissioner of Madurai said heat advisories to the public using local media and have asked people to avoid venturing out between 12 pm and 3 pm based on IMD warnings. He said the city will put up 120 drinking water stations in high footfall areas and set up medical camps in view of the elections and multiple festivals scheduled in April. “We are ensuring there is adequate ORS in all public health facilities, we are also studying if we need to create temporary shelters in busy bus stations,” he said. He further said that all water availability and quality-related complaints are being addressed swiftly to ensure adequate supply of water.

The way forward

The Ahmedabad HAP was conceptualised after officials found that the deaths in May, when the heat is at its peak for the city, were more than the average monthly deaths throughout the year. In 2010 particularly, the data showed that the number of deaths was 40% more than the monthly average. But with the implementation of HAP, the trend is reversing. “The number of deaths in May for 2019 and 2022 (barring the COVID years in between) were in fact lower than the monthly average deaths. And in 2023, the number of deaths in May was only 3% more than that of the monthly average,” he said.

Rajashree Kotharkar, professor at Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in Nagpur and a sectoral expert said these short-term activities are showing positive results not only in Ahmedabad but across the country. “Since 2016, the number of heat-related mortality is going down in the country, which means the short-term measures of early warning systems and active coordination among different arms of the government especially when heat wave incidents are only increasing,” she said. She added that while efforts have worked to save lives, more needs to be done to ensure a better quality of life.

Kothakar who also presented a framework for model heat action plan for cities at in this year’s NDMA workshop said now HAPs in many parts of the country need to be updated recognising the most vulnerable areas of the city. She also advocated for conducting surveys and studies involving the population to determine health-based thresholds like bearable temperature for different cities and demographics.

As mentioned by Kothakar, in Thane—civic officials are conducting a survey in Wagle ward which was identified as the most vulnerable with 40% of the population falling in the higher age bracket of 50-60 years and above. “Through this, we are getting information about what cooling facilities they currently can afford. The residents were also surveyed about what they feel would help them navigate heat stress from tested-out solutions practiced in other cities in India,” said Vishwas Chitale, senior programme lead for CEEW who collaborated in forming the HAP. Through this, it has been decided that there will be arrangements made to put up drinking water stations in the main squares of the ward.

Chitale said that the Thane HAP has quantified the impact of humidity on temperature stating that humidity can add 5-6 degrees in addition to dry temperature during peak summer hours.

“Jodhpur being a tier-II city putting a lot of efforts with vulnerable communities, particularly slum dwellers, women -- they are doing a lot of awareness and putting in place early warning systems that reach the grassroots level,” said Abhiyant Tiwari, lead for health and climate resilience in India for the non-government Natural Resources Defense Council. He said that while many studies and plans have been formulated, there are lots of gaps in action and the plans.

Aditya Valiathan Pillai of the Sustainable Future Collective, who recently co-authored a Centre for Policy and Research report analysing 37 of India’s heat action plans in March 2023 said on a positive note more and more different arms of the government machinery are getting involved in these heat action plans.

“This year the NDMA workshop had representation from multiple sectors such as railways, armed forces among others which was previously only attended by disaster management and public health officials,” he said. However, he said very few of these HAPs are localised or have either financial or legal backing to be implemented.

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