Dealing with the heatwave: It is a mistake to underestimate its impact
This year, heatwaves have started when states are busy tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the migrant crisis, and few even have the locust attack to deal with. These concurrent disasters have put pressure on the state machinery. But states have no choice; they must implement the NDMA guidelines to save lives.
On Monday, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that heatwave conditions are very likely to continue in Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, east Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha till May 28. Heatwave conditions, it added, is also likely in isolated pockets in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, interior Odisha, Gujarat, Madhya Maharashtra, Marathawada, interior Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Jharkhand during the next two to three days. In the plains, a heatwave is declared if the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C or more. In the last few years, heatwaves have emerged as a major severe-weather event in India. Twenty-three states were affected in 2019, up from 19 in 2018. The number of heatwave days in a year and its severity is expected to increase in the future, thanks to the climate crisis.
In India, more than 6,000 people have died because of heatwaves since 2010. The maximum number of deaths in the last decade was in 2015, when 2,040 people died. However, data does not capture the actual number of deaths due to heatwaves. This is because while deaths due to heat-stroke and heat exhaustion are recorded, overheating of a human body can also can lead to organ failure, stroke, and cardiac arrest. These are seldom recorded as heatwave deaths. The National Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009, also don’t have heatwaves in the list of natural calamities though they are the third biggest natural cause of deaths. The NDMA has a Heat Action Plan that provides a framework to states for the implementation, coordination and evaluation of extreme heat-response activities. The plan outlines strategies such as establishing an early warning system; training health care professionals; improving community outreach to alert people; setting up temporary shelters, and improving water delivery systems. Cities such as Surat and Bhubaneswar have implemented many of the guidelines, but most states are lagging.
This year, heatwaves have started when states are busy tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the migrant crisis, and few even have the locust attack to deal with. These concurrent disasters (we could see more such situations in the future) have put pressure on the state machinery. But states have no choice; they must implement the NDMA guidelines to save lives.