Prepare for the next challenge — heat waves
It is imperative to build adequate resilient systems to minimise the damage to the people’s health, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid and especially in times of an existing health crisis.
An unusually high number of western disturbances in March, April, and May subdued the sweltering heat usually felt in these months, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). It added that similar conditions are likely to persist till May 18. While there are no other projections on heatwaves from IMD yet, an earlier advisory in March warned that “above normal seasonal maximum temperatures are likely” over most of the country.
This means that state governments must begin implementing their strategies to help people cope with the effects of heat waves. There is an additional challenge — most states are under various levels of lockdown, and citizens, many of whom can’t afford cooling mechanisms, are forced to stay inside their homes, which may not be thermally comfortable. According to The Natural Resources Defense Council, nine out of 10 homes in India do not have air-conditioning. With rising peak temperatures, cooling in India is no more a luxury, but a necessity.
A study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago show that rising temperatures can hurt economic output by reducing the productivity of human labour. The damage, the report added, is greatest when already warm days become hotter.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been pushing states to build resilience to extreme heat by designing their Heat Action Plans (HAPs), improving public awareness and community outreach; setting up comprehensive early warning systems, and improving interagency coordination; capacity building of health care professionals; and reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures. Today, 23 states have HAPs. NDMA is now encouraging cities to go for low-cost cool roofs (roofs painted with solar reflective paint, covered in white tiles, or with white membranes), which are an easy and cost-effective way to keep indoor temperatures lower and help address the urban heat island challenge. Some states, such as Telangana, has already included a detailed strategy for installing and scaling up cool roofs for up to 300 square kilometers by 2031 in its HAP. Hyderabad has already installed 20,000 square feet of cool roofs and has included cool roofs as one of its corporate social responsibility tools.
Along with Heat Action Plans, India needs long-term mitigation through passive cooling measures, better civic planning, more urban and rural water bodies, and a better understanding of the factors impacting heat retention in cities and towns in India. It is imperative to build adequate resilient systems to minimise the damage to the people’s health, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid and especially in times of an existing health crisis.