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There is a need to formulate a structural policy to protect against the heat

by Vijay Garg
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Temperatures touched record levels in many parts of the country, especially in north-east, central and east India. Due to this heat wave, the day temperature in some districts remained in the range of 45 to 50 degrees at times. Extreme heat is nothing new in North-East and Central India, but prolonged dry weather and unexpected sharp jumps in temperatures are unlikely in the early days. There are still a few weeks left for the monsoon to arrive, so there is every possibility of heat waves and heat waves forming in the country even further.
The harshness of summer led to a huge increase in the demand for electricity, the difference in production leading to power cuts in many states. The reason behind this is said to be the shortfall in coal supply to thermal power stations. While coolers, air conditioners fell short as per the demand in metros, there were reports of water scarcity in smaller towns and cities. It would not be right to consider the different type of heat seen this time as in previous years. Extreme temperatures are also fatal to human health, livestock, agriculture and business. There is a need to formulate a framework program policy to deal with this.
The first step should be to accept science as the existing and emerging scientific consensus. The Intergovernmental Panel on Environmental Change (IPCC) has been consistently warning about a longer summer and shorter winter, in addition to increasing the number and intensity of heat waves across the globe. In August 2021, the IPCC warned in its report that the intensity of extreme heat caused by a 2 °C increase in global temperature would often remain around the tolerable capacity of the human body and agriculture. Although the increase in the temperature of the coastal areas will not be so much, but due to the changes in the temperature of the ocean currents, humans and their marine livelihood will be affected. Changes in the ocean’s thermal system will result in an increase in the acidity of sea water and a decrease in the oxygen level. The IPCC report, which is essentially a composite of the evidence available in different countries, warns that in urban areas that already have ‘hot island’-like conditions, the temperature increase can be severe.
According to the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment, all the above-mentioned effects would be felt in India if the annual average land-surface air temperature rises by 1.7 to 2 degrees. Its many forms, including the effect of weather differences and temperature extremes, are now clearly visible. To understand the environmental changes responsible for each heat wave, we need to further develop the method of ‘causality’, but in common practice, temperature intensity and increasing frequency are linked to man-made changes.
The second step is to identify the first population at risk of adverse effects of heat wave so that precautionary measures can be initiated. This type of assessment is part of a comprehensive risk assessment report on environmental changes. The problem of heat waves is now a reality and is presently present, so there is a need to conduct ‘risk assessment studies’ on the most affected states and districts.
Its basic format is similar to some of the ongoing projects. For example, a study conducted by the IIPC in Odisha found that slum dwellers are most at risk, depending on the structure of their homes, the heating of the roof (tin or asbestos), multiple people in the same room, electricity supply. And because of insufficient water. An earlier study by IIPH-Gandhinagar on temperature emphasizes the need for a nationwide risk assessment study on the subject. According to the available data, it is concluded that out of the total 640 districts in the country, 10 fall in the very high-risk category, while the other 97 districts are in the high-risk category. Most of them are from Central India.
In the risk assessment survey in human settlements, the geographical location, greenery, wind speed etc. are counted in determining the external temperature, then the elements such as ventilation and the structure of the hive for the internal temperature. Even within cities, some areas may be more at risk than others. To reduce the risk, it is necessary to identify all such ‘hot-points’. In different sections of the society also some sections are more at risk, but the poor belong to any section, they are more at risk. It is not only humans who have to bear the wrath of heat, crops and livestock are also badly affected. Some scientists are working to study the effect of changing temperatures on agricultural production. The rising heat is also having an adverse effect on milk production.
The policy response so far to deal with extreme thermal conditions has been fragmented and short-lived. The national and provincial action plans on climate change for the past 15 years or so, with a cursory mention of extremes as a challenge, have seen little implementation of such simple plans. Some municipal corporations have also started the work of preparing heat wave action plans, but their implementation is very slow. Last year, the Health Ministry came out with a National Action Plan on Thermal Illnesses. The State Governments are directed to keep records of heat-related diseases and forward the same to the Center for Integrated Disease Surveillance Program. However, there is a lack of flexibility or medium- and long-term national heat action plans linking the two separate plans on heat management. To reduce the effect of heat wave, we also need to make a guiding map with new technology and measures.
We need to forecast heat waves and send public warnings in easy language and format. Government agencies should provide a list of what to do or not to the common citizens and those working in certain industry-based sectors such as construction work, rural employment and education institutions to protect against scorching heat. Some simple measures, such as painting the roof or applying heat-insulating material, provision of windows for air through, etc. can reduce the temperature inside. Implementing these measures by involving local groups and civil society would be far-reaching. The solution to reduce the effect of heat wave is related to environmental protection measures such as efficient use of energy, urban development planning, energy efficiency of machinery, eco-friendly architecture and adapting agriculture to changing climate etc.

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