February 8, 2023 5:31 am

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Heat Wave, Human Survival and the Indian Response

The report on Extreme Heat not only predicts increasing frequency and severity of heat waves with rising mean temperature but also highlights the uneven distribution of heat wave impacts across countries, regions, populations and individuals.

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Rising temperatures and the subsequent heat waves leading to Climate change challenges are taking its toll on mankind. A joint publication of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre titled “Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of The Future” brings our focus towards disastrous effects of heat waves on human society across the globe and calls for urgent adaptation planning.

Based on the survey of published scientific studies, the report on Extreme Heat not only predicts increasing frequency and severity of heat waves with rising mean temperature but also highlights uneven distribution of heat wave impacts across countries, regions, populations and individuals. Also, the report warns that heat waves will have cascading effects on human life by threatening non-human life and undermining the systems that keep people healthy and alive. Most importantly, the report points out that the impact of heat wave events occurrences compounded with other climate extremes. In this regard, the report cites an example of India where occurrences of heat wave events with meteorological droughts have increased substantially in the past 60 years.    

Source: Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of The Future. 

Increasing severity of Heat Waves

The report argues that poor countries in the global south which have contributed least to climate change are threatened more by the increasing severity of heat waves. In this connection, the report identifies heatwaves as a global threat in the twenty-first century and their impact on human life will depend not only on climate change but also on how Governments and their national and international partners work together to anticipate, prepare and respond.  

Countries lying in the global south are more vulnerable to climate change-related heat wave events not only because the mean temperature in the global south is relatively higher which lowers the temperature threshold for these countries beyond which human activities become near impossible but also because governments in these countries lack adequate resources to track climate change and respond to climate change events. 

As far as the impact of heat waves on individuals is concerned, the report cites evidence from published academic literature to highlight that vulnerable groups in society e.g., children, elderly, breastfeeding women and people with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions are more at risk due to heat waves as these group of individuals lack the means to reduce their exposure. To support its argument, the report cites United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) which, for the first time, introduced the children’s climate change risk index in 2021 in which 30 million children across the globe were estimated to be highly exposed to climate change. Based on this evidence, UNICEF declared climate change as a child rights crisis.   

Source: Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of The Future. 

Based on the evidence, the report asks for mapping the inequities that arise due to heat waves. These inequities can be due to inequity in an exposure. For example, outdoor workers are more exposed to heatwave events. Other kinds of inequity arise because different individuals have different sensitivities against extreme heat. For example, children, women and the old are more sensitive to extreme weather events e.g., heat waves. Finally, inequity arises because different sets of people have unequal resource endowments to cope with extreme heat events. Cultural factors also contribute to the uneven distribution of heat waves’ effects on countries, regions, people and individuals. To highlight that unequal effects of heat waves are not limited to the developing world, the report cites the example of the heat wave in Paris in 2003 in which excess mortality was twice as high in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived areas. 

Need for Adaptation Planning Specific to Heat Wave Events 

The report highlights the inequities in response arising due to underreporting of heat wave events and damage caused due to heat wave events in areas where poorer sections live. For proper and timely adaptation response, weather stations must be installed in areas where the poor lives. Also, the vulnerability of urban space is found to be higher against heat wave events. Citing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report argues that heat wave risks in urban areas of developing countries tend to escalate due to rapid urbanization and climate change in the coming future. While few regions of the world have initiated action plans against heat waves; geographic imbalance and low rate of national policy integration of heat action plans still remain the challenge that will require significant efforts to address. With regard to adaptation, the report argues that social protection schemes e.g., social assistance, social insurance and labour market interventions can be critical to build resilience to disasters, including those related to climate change. Clearly, the report sees the critical role of national and regional governments in effectively dealing with climate change-related events. Additionally, the report also acknowledges the role of local knowledge, customs and techniques which allow people and communities to understand the seasonality of their environments, predict dangerous weather and take steps to protect themselves. 

Source: Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of The Future. 

India’s Institutional Framework Against Heat Waves 

While the definition of Heatwave is context specific, it can be understood as the prolonged periods of abnormal heat which is hazardous to human health and well-being. Heat Wave as extreme weather event has recently become a concern for disaster management in India due to their widespread and severe impact on health and the environment. According to NIDM, the yearly average number of heat wave events increased by about 20 per cent during the post-HFA (Sendai period).  

India has an advanced institutional framework to deal with disastrous events. The response framework is developed following the Yokohama (1994) strategy and Hyogo framework for action (2005-2015) which was an outcome of the second (2005) world conference on disaster reduction in Kobe, Japan.  

Identifying a heat wave in India. 
Source: Heat Wave in India Documentation of State of Telangana and Odisha (2016). 

In line with the Yokohama strategy, the Government of India initiated a central sector scheme under which Disaster Management Centres (DMCs) were set up in Administrative Training Institutes in all the states and UTs, and a National Centre for Disaster Management (NCDM) was set up under the Union Agriculture Ministry. Additionally, a High-Powered Committee (HPC) on Disaster Management was set up and its report was released in the year 2000, which paved the way for the new institutional, legal, financial and technological framework of disaster management in the country. Based on the recommendations of HPC, National Centre for Disaster Management was upgraded to the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) in 2003.  In this period, the DM approach witnessed a shift from post-disaster relief (ex-post) to a mitigation and preparedness-centric approach (ex-ante). As a result, State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) were set up and preparation of disaster management plans at state and district levels began during the period.

The collaborative project between GoI and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2002-2008) was also initiated in this period and Natural Disaster Risk Management (NDRM) Programme was launched in 169 multi-hazard-prone districts across 17 states. Under this programme, DM plans were prepared with a focus on Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP).  

Frequency of disaster events in India (1995-2004).  
Source: MAPPING CLIMATIC AND BIOLOGICAL DISASTERS IN INDIA: Study of Spatial & Temporal Patterns and Lessons for Strengthening Resilience (Publication year: 2021). Published by: National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). 
Source: MAPPING CLIMATIC AND BIOLOGICAL DISASTERS IN INDIA: Study of Spatial & Temporal Patterns and Lessons for Strengthening Resilience (Publication year: 2021). Published by: National Institute Of Disaster Management (NIDM) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

During Hyogo Period (2005-2015), Disaster Management Act was enacted in the year 2005 which recognised damages to the environment under the purview of the definition of disaster. Post DM Act, an institutional framework has been set up in all the States for multi-hazard disaster Management with a focus on preparedness and mitigation. SDMAs and DDMAs were set up across the country and SDM Plans and DDM Plans were also formulated by most of the states. A few states set up State Institutes for Disaster Management, e.g., Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and so on. The National Disaster Management Policy of India was released in the year 2009 and a series of National Disaster Management Guidelines were also released during the 2005-2010 period.  

The post-Hyogo period also observed a second shift in the disaster management paradigm where environment-disaster linkages were also well recognised with climate change impacts and the importance of climate adaptation and resilience in Disaster Management. GoI-UNDP DRM Program was followed by a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Programme (2009-2013), implemented in 26 states, 78 districts, and 56 cities, which aimed to strengthen the state and district disaster management authorities and city administrations to undertake DRR activities as outlined in the DM Act 2005 and National DM Policy 2009. Subsequent to this, the GoI-UNDP Programme for “Enhancing Institutional and Community Resilience to Disasters and Climate Change (2013-2017)” was implemented to provide technical support to strengthen the capacities of government, communities and institutions to fast-track implementation of the planning frameworks.  

Source: MAPPING CLIMATIC AND BIOLOGICAL DISASTERS IN INDIA: Study of Spatial & Temporal Patterns and Lessons for Strengthening Resilience (Publication year: 2021). Published by: National Institute Of Disaster Management (NIDM) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). 

Post Hyogo i.e., Sendai Framework (2015-2030) for DRR is the most comprehensive and integrated framework with a special focus on risk reduction and building back. Inclusive DRR and Climate Smart DRR and development are the key principles of this framework. National Disaster Management Plan in line with SFDRR was released in the year 2016. Central Ministries also came up with their DM Plans in line with National Plans.  Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) methodology was customised and adopted by the Government of India in the year 2019. National Level Disaster Management Information System (NDMIS) with a dedicated module on damage and loss reporting developed by MHA- NDMA with the support of UNDRR and UNDP due cater to the needs of monitoring the targets under SFDRR. 

Ahmadabad Heat Action Plan (2013) 

In India, the first systematic efforts towards heat wave management planning happened in Ahmadabad, Gujarat in 2013. Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan (AHAP) had a fourfold strategy- 

  1. building public awareness of the risk of heat waves through a mass outreach programme in the local language  
  1. implementing a response system to prevent heat-related death and illness at the onset 
  1. initiating an EWS and inter-agency collaboration framework to alert citizens on predicted extreme temperature and  
  1. capacity building among city officials and healthcare professionals to recognize and respond to heat-related illnesses. 

This model has been applied in Maharashtra and Odisha.  

Identifying a heat wave in India. 
Source: Heat Wave in India Documentation of State of Telangana and Odisha (2016). 

Other notable initiatives to combat heat waves include the National Knowledge Network Programme on Climate Change and Human Health, launched in 2011 by the Department of Science and Technology which have produced studies to increase the understanding regarding heat wave. Similarly, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has started providing frequent forecasts on heat conditions as they do for rainfall and cyclones to more than 100 cities. In summary, India’s strategy against heat waves works by horizontal and vertical coordination of multiple government departments and local communities.

(The author is Dr Amarendra Pratap Singh, Director, Foundation for Development & Democracy Research)

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