As Devastating Heat Wave Bears Down, Indian City Offers Life-Saving Plan

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Authored by Dr. Dileep Mavalankar, Meredith Connolly and Anjali Jaiswal

A deadly heat wave is currently bearing down on communities across India, with devastating effects on people and livelihoods. The spiking temperatures underscore the need for local heat adaptation plans and early warning systems to reduce the health effects of heat stress and increase resilience in local communities to rising temperatures. Ahmedabad's Heat Action Plan - South Asia's first early warning system against extreme heat waves - is tailored to help protect the city's vulnerable communities during these disasters.

Ahmedabad's Heat Action Plan has been effective at increasing awareness on the dangers of heat waves and climate change and the need for disaster risk management. Similar heat adaptation plans could be adopted throughout India to combat the dangerous impacts of these scorching temperatures as other Indian cities and states express interest in replicating Ahmedabad's groundbreaking program - and these efforts take on greater urgency as climate change increases the intensity and frequency of heat waves across the country and around the globe.

Extreme heat can take a significant toll on all aspects of day-to-day life, making tasks like cooking indoors or working construction harmful to your health or even deadly - in fact, a historic heat wave in Ahmedabad in 2010 was estimated to cause 1,300 excess deaths. Heat affects people through dehydration, acute heat illnesses (such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke), and the worsening of chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Extreme heat, like many impacts of climate change, can have a disproportionate impact on the poor. A vulnerability assessment performed in Ahmedabad showed that poor residents of slum communities are more exposed to extreme heat, more susceptible to the health impacts of extreme heat, and generally lack opportunities to adapt to increasing temperatures.

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.

During the historic May 2010 heat wave in Ahmedabad, temperatures spiked at over 46°C and an estimated 1,300 excess deaths resulted. In response, the local government, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), led as the first Indian city to create a comprehensive early warning system and preparedness plan for extreme heat events in 2013. The Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (IIPH-G), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology partnered with the AMC to craft and put this pioneering heat adaptation plan into action to protect people, which was recently expanded ahead of the 2015 heat season.

This successful effort is now expanding outside of Ahmedabad. After we held a country-wide workshop in Ahmedabad with interested governments in April, the city of Nagpur's municipal government organized a two-day workshop in early May, with support from IIPH-G and NRDC, to craft their own life-saving heat action plan.

Scientists have been ringing the warning bell that higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent globally due to climate change. As average temperatures across India have increased over the last decade and with 2015 threatening to be even hotter globally than 2014, the current hottest year on record, these soaring temperatures will continue to threaten people's lives, lead to droughts and other serious impacts.

These and other predictions for the future escalate the urgent need for targeted policy interventions and expanded public outreach in vulnerable communities to reduce the devastating health effects of heat stress in India and increase resilience in local communities to rising temperatures. Local, on-the-ground climate preparedness actions, like Ahmedabad's Heat Action Plan, are crucial in the global fight against climate change.

More information about Ahmedabad's heat action plan, related resource materials and cutting-edge scientific journal articles is available here:

Ahmedabad's heat action plan is available here:

Our blog posts on Ahmedabad's heat action plan are available here:

For more information about why heat disproportionately impacts the poor, including those living in slum communities, and recommended strategies to protect these communities, please see our issue brief based on a vulnerability assessment performed in the Indian city of Ahmedabad: