Climate Change

Most heat action plans in India are not suited to local contexts: Study

Indian heat action plans do not take humidity, hot nights and duration of continuous heat into consideration; they are poor at identifying and targeting vulnerable groups

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Tuesday 28 March 2023
A woman walks at the Sangam in Prayagraj on a hot summer day. Photo: iStock

An analysis of 37 heat action plans (HAP) from across the country at the state (15), district (13) and city levels (9) by the non-profit Centre for Policy Research (CPR) found that most of them were not built for local context and are poor at identifying and targeting vulnerable groups.

The report was released on March 27, 2023.

HAPs are documents prepared at the state, district and city levels for taking short-term actions to limit the number of human deaths and other adverse impacts of heat waves and further long- term actions to prepare for future heat waves based on the data and analysis of previous heat waves. Heat waves are prolonged periods of extreme heat and large parts of India are vulnerable to them.

Short term actions can include alerting people of heat waves and coordinating various departments such as healthcare and agriculture. Long-term actions can include infrastructural changes such as cool roofs, increase in green cover and water harvesting structures.

Just in 2022, 17 Indian states had suffered from heat waves from between March 11 and June 6. This had led to loss in productivity of the wheat crop in the northwestern and central states which had pushed the Indian government to ban exports of the crop from India.

There have been major heat waves in 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2015, according to the report. In 2015, around 2,500 deaths occurred due to heat waves in India. The HAPs are responsible to minimise such damages from heat waves.

The report found that locally defined temperature thresholds were considered only by 10 out of the 37 HAPs. Generally, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) declares a heat wave when the maximum temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius for two consecutive days in the plains, above 37 degrees Celsius in the coastal areas and above 30 degrees celsius in the hills and mountains.

But localised factors such as humidity, which can increase the felt temperature of a place and increase the impact on human health, can cause a particular heat wave to be more damaging than a simple measure of temperature would show.

Even among the 10 HAPs with localised temperature thresholds, the report is not sure if factors such as humidity, hot nights and duration of continuous heat were taken into account. Climate projections which inform about the how heat waves would behave in the context of future global warming were also not integrated into the HAPs.

Only two of the 37 HAPs carried out vulnerability assessments in the context of heat waves which meant that the resources were not directed towards the people who needed them the most. The report found that the HAPs do identify broad vulnerable groups but “the list of solutions they propose do not necessarily focus on these groups.”

The report found that only 11 of the 37 HAPs discuss funding sources. In eight of these HAPs, the implementing departments were asked to bring in their own resources.

The HAPs also have weak legal foundations as none of them indicated the sources of their authority which “reduces the accountability of implementing agencies”, says the report.

There is also no national repository of HAPs and only a few are easily accessible online. There is also no clarity on whether these HAPs are regularly updated and if this updation is based on data from evaluation of the documents.

“HAPs cover several forms of capacity building for key sectors such as health, construction, and schools. They place far less emphasis on the capacity of transformative, cross-cutting actors like government departments, civil society, and the local heat research ecosystem”, concludes the report.

CPR recommends that HAPs should localise the heat hazard definitions, should incorporate vulnerability assessments, should be linked to the national climate funding mechanisms or heat waves should be included under notified disasters to utilise disaster preparedness funds, should be linked to the disaster management legal structure and environmental governance.

It also recommends “creating a national repository of HAPs housed in the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and conducting independent, publicly accessible external evaluations of their performance.”

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