Co-Authored with Sayantan Sarkar
Temperatures have been spiking in western India, and it’s only early April. Cities, such as Ahmedabad, have already climbed to abnormally high temperatures for this early in the year, with some regions reaching a scorching 43°C (109°F). Ahmedabad is no stranger to extreme heat. The city is responding to strengthen resilience by releasing and implementing the sixth annual Heat Action Plan: Guide to Extreme Heat Planning. The heat action plan is a catalyst, driving transformative change locally, across 11 states and 30 cities in India and beyond.
Impacts of Extreme Heat
With skyrocketing temperatures, heat waves cripple many parts of the world, including India. Extreme heat is taking a toll on human health. Heat kills. Symptoms of heat-related illness include vomiting, headaches, dehydration, and diarrhea. Hospital rooms, cooling centers and city infrastructure struggle to keep communities cool and healthy. The economic costs are also staggering from extreme heat and other climate disasters. For example, while these numbers are not available for India, they are illustrative that in the United States, 16 events in 2017 cost over $306 billion in damage, an all-time high.
Fortunately, solutions are available to fight climate change. Early warning systems and heat action plans are simple and easy-to-implement plans. The locally-developed plans include low-cost measures, such as inter-agency coordination to ensure that medical centers are staffed and trained and that individuals know to stay hydrated and out of the sun. Adaptive measures, such as cool roofs, energy efficiency and renewable energy, work to address and limit the impacts of climate change.
Scaling Heat Action Plans: 11 States, 30 Cities and Beyond
The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan stands out for several reasons. The plan shows how local actions can drive transformative change that scales at the national and international level. An even more powerful lesson is that simple measures, such as providing drinking water or applying cool roofs, can have significant benefits from saving lives to reducing energy demand―especially for vulnerable communities.
Early warning systems for extreme heat and heat action plans have now scaled to 11 Indian states and 30 cities in India with the leadership of the National Disaster Management Authority and Indian Meteorological Department as well as partners such as NRDC and the Indian Institute of Public Health - Gandhinagar (IIPHG). Last month, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) convened international experts from California as well as across India, including the NRDC - IIPHG team to help develop heat action plans in neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Ahmedabad 2018 Heat Action Plan
After a devastating heat wave hit Ahmedabad in 2010, experts determined that extreme heat was associated with more than 1,000 deaths in that year. The 2010 heat wave prompted the city of Ahmedabad and partners to develop the heat action plan―the first in South Asia. This week, temperatures in Ahmedabad are spiking again, offering a fitting backdrop to the challenges facing the city that is home to more than 7 million people.
Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan has a four-pronged approach to reduce heat-related health impacts and mortality:
- Building public awareness and community outreach to communicate the risks of heat waves and implement practices to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses. This includes disseminating public messages on how to protect people against extreme heat through inter-personal contact, traditional media outlets and modern mediums such as WhatsApp, and informational materials such as pamphlets and advertisements on heat stress prevention.
- Initiating an early warning system and inter-agency coordination to alert residents of predicted high and extreme temperatures. The AMC has created formal communication channels to alert governmental agencies, the meteorological department, health officials and hospitals, emergency responders, local community groups, and media outlets of forecasted extreme temperatures.
- Capacity building among health care professionals to recognize and respond to heat-related illnesses, particularly during extreme heat events. These strategies are paired with straight-forward measures like stocking emergency rooms and ambulances with ice packs.
- Reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures by launching new efforts including mapping of high-risk areas of the city, increasing outreach and communication on prevention methods, access to increased potable drinking water stations and cooling spaces during extreme heat days.
Five key aspects of the 2018 HAP to strengthen resilience in Ahmedabad:
- Expanding the use of “cool roofs”―reflective paint on buildings citywide, which helps keep indoor temperatures lower;
- Increasing access to cool drinking water through a city distribution network;
- Enhancing participation of religious groups to spread awareness of heat alerts through places of religious importance;
- Expanding digital and media advertising to raise awareness of taking precautions during heat spikes;
- More training of medical professionals to help protect patients in times of extreme heat.
The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan was first launched in 2013 by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in collaboration with NRDC and IIPHG among other partners. With consistent support from the city’s leadership and seamless collaboration of the city officials with NRDC and IIPHG, significant progress has been made in Ahmedabad. The Ahmedabad experience has shown regions across the country how a simple, science-based and partnership-driven action plan can help protect lives of thousands and build resilience to climate change.
- Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan 2018
- Expanding Heat Resilient Cities Across India - Issue Brief
- City Resilience Toolkit: Response to Deadly Heat Waves and Preparing for Rising Temperatures
- How to Manual
- YouTube Clips on the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan
- CNN Innovative Cities – Ahmedabad Cool Roofs Feature
Sayantan Sarkar is a climate change specialist working with NRDC as a consultant in New Delhi.