Video | As Heat Waves Claim Lives, How Can India Protect People Better?

Heat Action Plans can help local areas mitigate dangers of extreme heatwave, but why did they fail in North India?

2 min read

Video Editors: Prajjwal Kumar, Prashant Chauhan

What turns just another hot day into a heatwave?

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), a heat wave is declared when the maximum temperature of a place exceeds 40 degree Celsius for plains and 30 degree Celsius for hilly regions. 

A severe heat wave is declared when the maximum temperature exceeds the average temperature of a region by 6.4 degree Celsius. 

This is what many parts of India, and even the world, are currently going through. Parts of north India, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Odisha, have been seeing a spike in hospitalisations and deaths in the past few weeks. 

Health authorities have advised against stepping out during the day, and asked everyone to stay hydrated – particularly the elderly who are more prone to heatstrokes.

But, does India have a plan to tackle extreme heatwaves that have become an annual affair?


Heat Action Plans: What Are They?

According to experts, the casualties from extreme heat waves in these states were attributed to lapses in planning and implementation of the heat action plans. 

"These are guidance documents that governments develop at a local level, at the city level, or at the district level," explains Aditya Pillai, Fellow, Initiative for Climate, Energy, and Environment (ICEE), Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

"They'll try and determine what the temperature threshold is for the heat wave, and then recommend a set of measures to prevent the loss of life," he adds.

"But heat action plans are  also, more than that, because they also talk  about long-term measures to reduce the heat effect in a particular place. These are measures that will take many years to implement but can have a solid effect in terms of shaving off a couple of degrees of temperature in terms of what people feel. "
Aditya Pillai

Incidentally, all three of these states have their own heat action plans. So then what failed? What does it take to make an HAP work?

According to Pillai, some parameters of a successful or effective HAP are:

  • Do they set local temperature thresholds?

  • Do they take humid heat or warm nights into account?

  • Do they have vulnerability assessments where they actually look at their city or their town and figure out who are the people that are most vulnerable to heat?

"In the sense that these are the people that are most exposed. For example, migrant construction workers, gig workers (who are on their motorbikes all day), traffic cops, or people who are inherently more vulnerable because of how their bodies are – like elderly people, pregnant women, folks like that."
Aditya Pillai

"The question then is, do you have the institutional structure in the government to be able to implement this sort of a super complex thinking around policy?" he asks.

The bottom line is that considering that heat waves seem to be getting more and more severe with each year and is only likely to result in more catastrophic outcomes, our approach to them must shift from merely protecting against the heat to taking active steps to reduce heat exposure.

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Topics:  Video   Heatwave   Heatwave India 

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