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Implement cheaper, sustainable cooling strategies: Lancet series

ByJyoti Shelar
Sep 01, 2021 12:28 PM IST

A two-paper Lancet series on ‘heat and health’ published recently highlights solutions to such questions to combat heat stress

As temperatures rise throughout the world and heat waves become more intense, is reliance on air conditioners sustainable? What are the cheaper and sustainable cooling strategies that can be adapted by cities? How does heat affect the human body? A two-paper Lancet series on ‘heat and health’ published recently highlights solutions to such questions to combat heat stress.

Among the solutions the Lancet papers offer are large grasslands with trees, and canopies located over outdoor areas. (HT archive)
Among the solutions the Lancet papers offer are large grasslands with trees, and canopies located over outdoor areas. (HT archive)

The use of air conditioners is the most common cooling solution implemented worldwide. “From a health perspective, use of air conditioning provides numerous benefits,” state the authors. “Reduction in indoor temperatures dramatically alleviates heat strain. A working air conditioning unit in a home is the strongest protective factor against heat-related fatalities. In hospital wards, its presence reduces the risk of mortality during a heat extreme by 40%. In general, the strongest driver for air conditioning adoption is improved thermal comfort.” Yet, there are urban and rural disparities in access to air conditioners and affordability is also a concern.

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According to the authors, identifying and implementing sustainable cooling strategies broadly accessible to all sections of society is a pressing need. “Not just air conditioners, in rural India, people cannot afford to buy air coolers too,” said Premsagar Tasgaonkar, a researcher with Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) that studied indoor and outdoor temperature in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district and made policy recommendations like subsidies on air coolers during summers, building canopies and community halls every few kilometres, and getting people to use tiled roofs for better indoor temperatures.

The authors of the Lancet papers have offered similar solutions. Fountains providing spray with moving water to accelerate evaporative cooling, bodies of water, large grasslands with trees, canopies located over outdoor areas, reducing road and vehicle density to mitigate greenhouse gas and heat emissions from vehicles, increasing insulation of roofs and walls to reduce net conductive heat flow from the outdoor to indoor environment are some of the solutions offered.

Global temperatures have seen a record-breaking rise year after year. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in January that the past six years have been the warmest on record since 1880, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three. The WMO observed that 2020 was 1.2°C above pre-industrial era (1880) temperatures. According to a NASA analysis, the earth’s average temperature has risen more than 1.2°C since the late 19th century. 2020 was also the eighth warmest year in India, according to the India Meteorological Department’s statement on climate.

The Lancet papers also highlight that exposure to high ambient temperatures causes suffering and death due to severe dehydration and cardiovascular strain. Senior citizens above 65 years of age, those with comorbid conditions, and children are known to be more vulnerable to heat strain. People who work outdoors are also at higher risk of suffering from heat related morbidity and mortality. A Lancet countdown had estimated 31,000 heat related deaths of people above 65 in India in 2018.

“The heat-related health issues are not very well understood in India,” said Dr Dileep Malvankar Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, who was involved in drafting the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan in 2013. “A lot of deaths caused by heat directly and indirectly never get registered as heat-related deaths,” he said.

He recommends states and civic bodies appoint nodal officers for environmental health and create environmental health departments.

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