Heat Waves: 23 states have heat action plans but are they being implemented? - Hindustan Times
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Heat Waves: 23 states have heat action plans but are they being implemented?

ByJayashree Nandi
May 26, 2024 01:09 AM IST

Only four heat action plans identified the elderly, children, and pregnant women as being vulnerable to heat-related illness, an independent analysis said

Last year, earth sciences minister Kiren Rijiju informed Lok Sabha that the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and local health departments have started Heat Action Plans (HAPs) in many parts of the country.

A woman covers her child with a scarf to save him from heat wave on a hot summer day in Mumbai, India, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)(AP) PREMIUM
A woman covers her child with a scarf to save him from heat wave on a hot summer day in Mumbai, India, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)(AP)

The plan was to issue early heat wave warnings and prepare a protocol to be followed and a list of steps to be taken during such periods. Such heat action plans were being implemented in 23 States prone to high temperatures, Rijiju said.

But are they really in place in states worst affected by heat waves? Delhi, for one, has been experiencing one for at least a week now. What steps have been taken to mitigate the impact?

The city’s heat action plan finalised this year stated that the labour department will change the shift of outdoor workers from peak to non-peak hours; emergency kits with ice packs and ORS will be made available to construction workers. Authorities including the Public Works Department and the municipal corporation will construct shelters/sheds, bus stands with a cool roof for those who are outdoors.

Authorities are also supposed to identify areas to provide shelters during the heat alert period. They are also expected to ensure access to drinking water at all identified worksites. The action plan also includes provisions to provide shade to traffic personnel to rest during working hours; distribute cool jackets to traffic policemen; maintain water bodies and carry out afforestation activities among several other steps listed in the plan.

A cursory study of any neighbourhood in Delhi, however, shows that many of these interventions have not been implemented.

"I have not seen cooling shelters yet. It is also not clear whether construction activities have stopped. People are continuing to work during peak hours. The action plan has to be implemented very stringently or impacts will most certainly be severe when maximum temperatures are breaching 45 degree Celsius mark," said a senior IMD official who did not wish to be named.

Last year, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) analysed 37 heat action plans at the city (nine), district (13) and state (15) levels across 18 states.

The CPR team found that most HAPs are not built for the local context and have an oversimplified view of the hazard; nearly all HAPs are poor at identifying and targeting vulnerable groups; HAPs are underfunded; HAPs have weak legal foundations; HAPs are insufficiently transparent and capacity building is sectorally-targeted.

Every HAP defines the heat threshold at which the action plan will kick in. Delhi's action plan, for example, recognises IMD's definition of heat waves and severe heat waves.

But CPR researchers said HAPs need to consider local conditions better especially humidity or even built-up or concretised areas.

“We find that thresholds to declare heat waves do not adequately consider local conditions such as built-up area ratio, density of vegetation, and type of land surface, nor do they incorporate indicators like humidity and hot nights. Though 24 out of 37 HAPs indicate the need to use localised temperature and mortality thresholds, only 10 out of 37 (unclear in a further eight) listed thresholds different than the national threshold set by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD),” the CPR analysis found.

In all 37 HAPs reviewed, vulnerability is primarily understood through the health implications of heat. All but four HAPs explicitly identified the elderly, children, pregnant and lactating women, those with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, and people with physical disabilities as being vulnerable to heat-related illness owing to impairments in their thermoregulatory capacities, the analysis added.

How Ahmedabad responded to a heat wave over a decade ago

In 2010, Ahmedabad experienced one of its worst heatwaves in history with temperatures surpassing 48 degrees Celsius for nearly a week, killing 800 people, according to Dileep Mavalankar, head of the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), Gandhinagar. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation then partnered with the institute and the Natural Resources Defence Council in the US, a non-profit, to develop India’s first HAP.

“Every year, we are able to prevent at least 40% of deaths during summer months with our plan,” Mavalankar said in March last year. In Ahmedabad’s action plan, temperature forecasts trigger a heat alert, which is automatically sent to the state’s nodal officer, who then declares a heat alert.

Simultaneously, alerts are sent to the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority, the state’s surveillance unit, NGOs, community health groups and the All-India Disaster Mitigation Institute to help reach those vulnerable to heat stress.

Heatwave data

But, NDMA in its report titled “Beating the Heat: How India Successfully Reduced Mortality Due to Heat Waves” claimed that deaths due to heat waves have reduced remarkably from 2,040 in 2015 to 4 in 2020. Between 1992 and 2015, there were 24,223 deaths across the country, the report said.

Experts have questioned the data because heat wave mortality is not being effectively documented; low heat wave mortality in 2020 doesn’t mean mortality is, in fact, declining. Many heat wave deaths could also go unreported, experts have said.

According to a research paper by scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) published in the Weather and Climate Extremes journal of Elsevier in 2021, the mortality rates for extreme weather events are on a decline but rising significantly for heat waves and lightning events.

The mortality rate of tropical cyclones reduced by 94% in the past 20 years, whereas for heatwaves and lightning, it increased by 62.2% and 52.8%, respectively, said the study, which assessed mortality rates between 1970 and 2019.

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