Heat and Health: Building Resilience to Climate Change in India

On Monday, NRDC health scientist Dr. Kim Knowlton and I are leading a climate change workshop focused on heat stress in Ahmedabad, India – which is already experiencing 39°C (103°F) temperatures this month.  It’s only March and doctors are warning residents to take measures to protect themselves in what is unfortunately just the beginning of the heatwave season. The workshop, “Climate Change: Heat and Health, Addressing Vulnerability,” will bring together leading scientists and public health experts from the United States and India, as well as public officials from the city of Ahmedabad.

The rising temperatures in the city underscore the importance of one of the first heat health workshops India.  We’re co-hosting the workshop with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI)  and the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) in Gandhinagar, with the support of the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum. Over two and a half days, participants will share their expertise and experience to lay the groundwork for a heat-health vulnerability assessment in the city of Ahmedabad.

Ahmedabad, like many parts of India, is no stranger to the powerful consequences of heat waves. In May of 2010, temperatures reached over 47°C (116°F), resulting in an estimated 75 deaths.  To put this in context, these scorching temperatures are even higher than the hottest place in the U.S., Death Valley. While the challenge is great, there are many strategies that can be employed to reduce these impacts – from modifications in building construction to providing better cooling, to targeted health services for the elderly and other more vulnerable populations, to traditional cooling methods like eating raw onions and sour mangoes to keep cool.

The first step in addressing Ahmedabad’s heat-health challenge, however, is assessing the scope of its vulnerability. The Ahmedabad Heat-Stress Vulnerability Assessment is a multi-phase project that will:

  • Explore the health impacts of increasing heat waves in Ahmedabad’s urban environment;
  • Examine how heat-stress affects different demographics, and determine which populations are most vulnerable;
  • Understand heat-health effects, available data, and traditional cooling methods;
  • Develop strategies for building resilience in local communities, adapting to climate change, and mitigating negative impacts on human health; and 
  • Identify the institutional opportunities and challenges for implementing a successful adaptation plan.

The hope is that by bringing together the best of Indian and U.S. science and public health experts and city administrators, we’ll be able to make a real difference in the ability of Ahmedabad to anticipate and respond to the growing public health challenges of climate change. With a diverse stakeholder group, we plan to ramp up the city’s resilience to rising temperatures by developing programs and policies to protect the most vulnerable.

Look for blog updates on the exciting workshop from NRDC’s Dr. Kim Knowlton, Shravya Reddy, and myself on Switchboard.  Also, later this week, look for OnEarth guest blog posts from top scientists at the workshop.

(Co-authored by Gretchen Gordon, NRDC Law Clerk)