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A Tale Of Three Cities: Heat Action Plans Combat Soaring Mercury

01/06/2016 8:28 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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A street child drinks water from a tap in a slum area of New Delhi June 4, 2003 to quench his thirst during a heat wave. The death toll from a scorching heat wave in India's southern Andhra Pradesh state rose to 1,065 late on Tuesday, with high summer temperatures killing 45 people in previous 24 hours, an official said. The United nation's World Environment Day will be celebrated on Thursday with a theme of "Water-Two Billion people are dying for It". REUTERS/Kamal Kishore PP03060014 KK/CP

Co-authored by Jessica Korsh

June is only just beginning, and we have already seen record-breaking temperatures across the globe. April 2016 was the warmest April ever recorded globally, increasing the odds that 2016 could be the hottest year on record, beating records for the fourth consecutive year. India hit its hottest temperature ever with 51°C (123.8°F) in Phalodi, Rajasthan. Ahmedabad, Gujarat, soared to 46.9°C (116.4°F), surpassing the previous record of 46.8°C (116.2°F) from the city's deadly heat wave in May 2010. Some temperatures reportedly crossed 50°C (122°F) and local TV channels debated over which temperature assessment was more accurate. More than 2,300 heat-related fatalities occurred last year across India. However, less than 20 of these reported deaths (less than 1%) occurred in Ahmedabad, home to 7.2 million people.

Ahmedabad showed that preparing for the harmful effects of extreme heat does not need to be complicated.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has been integral in heat-wave preparedness efforts. The IMD now provides a five-day forecast to more than 100 cities in India. This March, it issued its first ever season outlook, warning of a warmer than normal hot season with average temperatures across northwest India expected to be "above normal by more than 1.0°C."

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IMD Press Release, March 2016

Heat Action Plans -- Three regions spanning 10 cities

Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, showed that preparing for the harmful effects of extreme heat does not need to be complicated. Through the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan (HAP), governments, health officials and communities promote simple, practical and live-saving actions such as drinking water and avoiding the sun. Building on the success in Ahmedabad, three regions spanning 10 cities have now launched Heat Action Plans. The regions of Nagpur in Maharashtra and Bhubaneswar in Odisha launched HAPs in March 2016 in advance of the hot season. The record-breaking temperatures we've seen so far are certainly testing the new plans.

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NRDC issue brief, March 2016

While Ahmedabad has provided a model framework for heat wave preparedness, threshold temperatures in other cities and states may need to be adjusted for local weather conditions. Correlation of daily temperature and mortality is an integral part of establishing safe (temperature) thresholds. The central IMD, located in New Delhi, continues to work closely with local IMD offices.

Highlights of Heat Action Plans in operation

The following Heat Action Plans in Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Bhubaneswar regions, which include the cities and their vicinity, have made gains in combating the unforgiving weather.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Tremendous public awareness has proven immensely effective in mitigating heat-related deaths. HAP information is disseminated by informational materials (billboards and advertisements) and more recently through the use of technology such as WhatsApp, Facebook and text messages. In May, the city's Municipal Corporation issued an extreme heat alert (red) for three days, indicating that mean temperatures would be 45°C (113°F) or greater. Residents have been asked to drink 6-7 litres of water a day and avoid going out in the open sun between 11am-6pm.

HAP information is disseminated by informational materials (billboards and advertisements) and more recently through the use of technology such as WhatsApp, Facebook and text messages.

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Auto-rickshaw awareness campaign in Ahmedabad. Photo by Dr. Abhiyant Tiwari

Nagpur, Maharashtra

Through exemplary leadership from the Maharashtra State Public Health Department and Nagpur Municipal Corporation, this HAP has coordinated between Nagpur and four neighbouring cities, creating the first regional approach to heat-wave planning in India. Analysis of mortality rates in Nagpur resulted in setting a threshold temperature of 43°C (109.4°F) for a heat alert (orange) and extreme heat alert (red) for temperatures of 45°C (113°F) or greater. Nagpur has also identified particularly vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, as part of the HAP. This year, 340 heat illness cases have already been reported. The number of heat-related deaths is uncertain at this time, but could be as high as 16. A committee has been formed to assess whether these 16 deaths were related to the soaring temperatures. Tremendous HAP publicity is taking place in Nagpur, and citizen awareness walks were organized in Gondia, Chandrapur, Nanded and Jalgaon.

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Awareness march in Chandrapur. Photo by Dr. Anjali Ambatkar

Bhubaneswar, Odisha

This year Bhubaneswar has already experienced record-breaking heat with temperatures reaching 45.8°C (144.4°F). Odisha's HAP was rapidly integrated into the existing state-wide advanced disaster management system. The Odisha State Disaster Management Authority along with the local IMD have issued heat-wave warnings. Together with media and civil society groups, Odisha is conducting community outreach and providing water to vulnerable groups. Odisha is still developing a threshold temperature so as to issue heat alerts via emails and text messages to government departments and the media.

Heat waves will continue to affect India, particularly in a warming world. Based on the recent record-breaking temperatures, HAPs cannot come fast enough.

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These three highlighted cities have demonstrated India's commitment to quickly, yet effectively, advance heat-resilience efforts. Heat waves will continue to affect India, particularly in a warming world. Based on the recent record-breaking temperatures, HAPs cannot come fast enough. Partners in development of the existing HAPs include the Indian Institute of Public Health, Public Health Foundation of India, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, University of Washington (School of Medicine), Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, the Natural Resources Defense Council; the initiatives are supported by the Climate Development Knowledge Network. The state of Telangana in south India is also developing a Heat Action Plan and the National Disaster Management Authority is planning to expand HAPs across India.

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"Dos and don'ts" advertisement in Chandrapur and Nagpur

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