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Ahmedabad’s beat-the-heat plan

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Jun 30, 2013 | From the print edition

Civic body to send weather alerts, create public awareness and train medical officials

On May 22, 2010, three hundred people died in Ahmedabad because of heat

IN A first-of-its-kind initiative, the city of Ahmedabad has charted out a plan to protect its residents from scorching heat. Under the Heat Action Plan, people will receive weather alerts through SMS on mobile phones and medical professionals will be trained to increase preparedness.

Drawn by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in collaboration with the US’ Georgia Institute of Technology, the action plan is a response to the deadly heat wave in May 2010 when the city’s temperature spiked to 46.8°C and killed hundreds of people.

“It is a three-pronged strategy to create awareness. We will make people aware of heat stroke and precautions and develop a warning system that will forecast weather seven days in advance and increase capacity building of health workers,” says Tejas Shah, nodal officer for Heat Action Plan, AMC. When asked why the help of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) was not sought for the plan, Shah said that IMD gives predictions for three days only. “The Georgia University has used historical data to develop a model for Ahmedabad. We can get reliable predictions in advance and also have enough time to prepare and communicate to other departments and stakeholders.”

AMC also plans to install thermometers at various spots and use pamphlets and other mass awareness tools such as billboards to raise awareness of the dangers of extreme heat among children, people who work outdoors and other vulnerable people, especially those who live in the slums. A survey in 2011 and 2012 by US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Indian Institute of Public health, Gandhinagar (IIPH-G), found that 10 per cent of the construction workers in the city were hospitalised at least once during summer for heat-related sickness. Slum residents suffer the most because their localities are congested and their roofing material does not provide enough protection from the heat, says Gulrez Shah Azhar, assistant professor, IIPH-G, who is working on the plan. An IIPH-G study on the 2010 heat wave found that there was a sudden spurt in deaths after a threshold temperature of 43°C for maximum or 36°C for mean.

Whether the Heat Action Plan will be a success depends on the actions of government agencies and willingness of private employers to ensure better work practices. For instance, AMC has asked the labour department to consider extended afternoon break or alternate working hours for labourers during summer months. “It is an advisory. We cannot enforce it because we do not regulate the construction or other sectors,” says Shah.

Global scenario

Although the Heat Action Plan is the first such step in India to fight global warming, countries like France and Australia took such measures early on. In response to an unexpected spell of hot weather in 2003, which killed almost 15,000 people, the French government formulated the Heat and Health Watch Warning System, which runs from June 1 to August 31 each year. An alert is issued when the means of over three days of forecasted maximum and minimum temperatures exceed predefined local thresholds. Similarly, South Australia has an extreme heat plan under which warnings are issued in advance based on average temperature of three days. England’s heatwave plan has short- and long-term plans for the health sector which include building zero-carbon hospitals, developing temperature-resistant drugs and more efficient public transport for staff and patients to lower heat generated by motor vehicle use and car parks.

India witnesses hundreds of heat-related deaths each year. Still the government has not recognised heat wave as a calamity. National programmes in India exist to address many effects of climate change but there is no strategy to adapt to increasing heat. The states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, where more than 600 people have died this year due to heat wave, have requested the Central government to recognise heat wave as a calamity. The Centre is considering the request, says the National Disaster Management Authority.

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