5 Reasons Why the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan Saves Lives

As temperatures around the globe inch up degree by degree because of climate change, this western Indian city is working to protect local communities from rising temperatures and the deadly threat of extreme heat. It’s a model other cities might follow to safeguard their citizens from this increasing health danger.

For the fifth consecutive year, and as temperatures soar to 42°C (108°F), the city of Ahmedabad and partners released the ground-breaking Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan for 2017. As temperatures around the globe inch up degree by degree because of climate change, this western Indian city is working to protect local communities from rising temperatures and the deadly threat of extreme heat. It’s a model other cities might follow to safeguard their citizens from this increasing health danger.

After a devastating heat wave hit the city in 2010, experts estimated the heat contributed to more than 1,000 deaths. This week, the peak temperatures in Ahmedabad have been hovering between 37°C - 43°C (99°F - 109°F), offering a fitting backdrop to the challenges facing the city that is home to more than 7 million people.

Until just the last few years, there was little communication of the health risks of heat waves to people coping with these conditions. But since 2013, the city’s awareness-building materials like hoardings (billboards) paired with straight-forward measures like training medical staff to diagnose heat-related illnesses, stocking emergency rooms with ice packs and the creation of an early warning system with alerts issued through media (TV, radio, newspapers), text messages, and the mobile application WhatsApp, have made solid headway in reducing heat-related illnesses and deaths in Ahmedabad.

The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan—the first in South Asia—was launched in 2013 by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in collaboration with NRDC, the Public Health Foundation of India - Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (IIPH), and other international partners, and supported in part by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). Given the significant progress in Ahmedabad and growing threats from rising temperature, leading cities and states across India adopted heat action plans in 2016. 

Having the privilege to partner with Ahmedabad since the inception of the plan, here are five reasons why the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan works and saves lives, as well as, highlights to new features in the plan.

  1. Simplicity. The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan uses a simple, color-coded, early warning “heat alert” system that alerts residents and city offices of predicted high and extreme temperatures. This year, with unusually high temperatures already, the AMC issued a “yellow alert,” triggering protective action, such as increasing shade access by keeping all gardens and parks open throughout the day, identifying areas to install water dispensers, and setting up medical centers  throughout the city.
  2. Partnership. Implementation of the Ahmedabad Heat Action, through the leadership of the Ahmedabad Mayor’s Office and City Health Department, is centered on partnership and cooperation. The Indian Meteorological Department shares a daily five-day forecast with the Heat Action Plan Nodal Officer during the heat season. The AMC has created formal communication channels to alert governmental agencies, the Met Centre, health officials and hospitals, emergency responders, local community groups, and media outlets of forecasted extreme temperatures. Sharing international and nation experiences is also a critical part of the plan. This year, the AMC is increasing cooperative efforts with the state education department to reduce school hours across the state because of extreme heat, and the estate department is working to meet with builders to make arrangements for laborers and construction workers.  
  3. Communication. Direct communication—focused on behavior change—is at the heart of saving lives through the heat action plan. Building public awareness and community outreach is vital to communicating the risks of heat waves and implementing practices to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses. Disseminating public messages on how to protect people against extreme heat through media outlets and informational materials such as pamphlets and advertisements on heat stress prevention. Efforts also include the use of social media such as SMS, text messages, email, radio and mobile applications such as WhatsApp. Special efforts are made to reach vulnerable populations through inter-personal communication as well as other outreach methods. This year, the city is using newly installed LED display boards to show heat alert warnings and to highlight preventive measures, such as to drink water, stay in the shade, see your doctor.
  4. Innovation. Born from a 2011 Vibrant Gujarat “Innovation” Memorandum of Understanding, the AMC has pioneered the development of heat vulnerability reduction strategies and an early warning system for extreme heat events to protect its residents. Combing science, health and policy action, the heat action plan exemplifies climate justice as highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the historic Paris Climate Summit. Through the Mayor’s leadership to focus on cool roofs in slum communities, this year, the city is launching a new cool roofs initiative for hundreds of buildings.
  5. Leadership. From the offices of the Mayor and the Commissioner to urban health centers and link officers, the leadership of the Ahmedabad Municipal Cooperation is outstanding. Strong local government leadership enables the highly effective implementation of the heat action plan that has proven effective in decreasing mortality by as much as 25 percent in the city. This year, Ahmedabad is showing leadership again, by being the first South Asian city in 2017 to launch a heat action plan—a critical step to protecting communities given IMD’s heat wave prediction of “above normal temperatures” in many parts of in India this year.

Ahmedabad has also demonstrated leadership by sharing lessons with cities and states across India. Leading governments in Maharashtra and Odisha stepped up to launch Heat Action Plans in 2016, demonstrating the first regional approaches to early warning systems and heat preparedness plans for extreme heat in India. Local, on-the-ground climate preparedness actions, like Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan, are crucial in the global fight against climate change.

Ahmedabad’s leadership on this five year anniversary is commendable and we look forward to working with other cities and states to craft similar plans to protect their residents from deadly heat.

Key Resources

New 2017 Ahmedabad Hoarding/Billboard on Heat Health and Cool Roofs
Credit: Nehmat Kaur

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