India’s signature long, dry and listless summer months have just begun and people are already dying. Last week, the heat wave claimed 66 people in Telangana and 45 in Andhra Pradesh. The vicious summer of 2015 had killed 2,300-plus people, mostly the poor and homeless. The weather forecast for this year is good and bad: While the first official projection of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) will be on April 20, other weather observers have said the rains will be normal. The bad news: The IMD has announced that temperatures will soar higher than normal between April and June and that the frequency of heat waves will be more than normal in central and north-west India.
If last year’s summer was an indicator, this year, too, will see deaths. This may sound alarmist but unless city administrations come out with city-specific Heat Action Plans (HAP), deaths are a certainty. Despite the IMD’s advance warnings, only three Indian cities — Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar and Nagpur — have come up with robust action plans. The benefits of such an action plan were visible last year in Ahmedabad: There were very few deaths in the city though the temperatures where consistently high.
The highlights of the three heat action plans include simple-but-effective measures: Initiating early warning systems and building public awareness through SMSes, building capacity of health professionals, reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures such as cool shelter zones, avoiding power cuts during heat waves and also long-term mitigating plans such as expanding tree planting and gardens, cool roofs, rainwater harvesting, ensuring availability of drinking water and shelter during the hottest times of the day for outdoor labourers and encouraging the use of public transport.
None of these are cumbersome and expensive measures but they need advance planning and coordination among different government agencies. Other Indian cities should take the cue from the three front-runners and devise their own city-specific plans because high temperatures are not going to be a one-off phenomenon, thanks to climate change, which increases the frequency and severity of heat waves.