Lessons from the Heart of India: Protecting Local Communities from Deadly Heat Waves in Maharashtra

Example of informative hoardings displayed in Nagpur
Credit: Photo by Napur City

Guest blog by Dr. Priya Dutta, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, Senior Research Associate and Nehmat Kaur, NRDC India Representative

Heat waves are becoming more frequent and severe worldwide, causing devastating impacts on human health. This alarming trend in rising temperatures is compelling cities and states in India to innovate in building resilience plans to extreme heat. Cities in the heart of India—Nagupur, Chandrapur, Gondia, Nanded and Jalgaon—are taking action on preparedness and respond the oppressive heat to protect local communities.

The city of Ahmedabad in partnership with the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPHG) and NRDC piloted the first Indian early warning system on extreme heat—the Heat Action Plan—to safeguard vulnerable groups such as outdoor workers, slum communities, the elderly and children from the health effects of heat waves. Scaling the plan, IIPHG and NRDC partnered with the Maharashtra State Public Health Department and Nagpur Municipal Corporation to launch the Heat Action Plan for Nagpur and the neighboring cities/districts Chandrapur, Gondia, Nanded and Jalgaon in March 2016. This year, the cities implemented the heat action plan through coordination on the ground, capacity building and extensive public outreach.

The Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, as these cities/districts are collectively called, is one of the hottest in the country with temperatures frequently exceeding 45 degrees Celsius during the summer. The region, in the center of India, is also feeling the heat this year because of the added effect of heat wave conditions forecasted by the Indian Meteorological Department. By developing and launching local heat action plans in advance of the heat season, the cities prepared in advance with resources and communication materials to sensitize vulnerable groups.

As part of the pre-summer activities, all five cities/districts appointed a nodal officer to oversee local implementation and issue alerts for the early warning for coordinated inter-agency action. In preparation, the districts earmarked a portion of their annual budget for implementation of the HAP to be used for training and capacity building, communication and publicity materials as well as deployment of resources such as drinking water, ice packs and oral rehydration solution across the districts.

Key Heat Preparedness Activities in 2016—In the Heart of India

For coordinated inter-agency action in the event of a health alert in the city, the districts have constituted a Coordination Committee comprised of key stakeholders. The Committee meets regularly during the heat season and is in charge of implementing the heat action plan activities pre, during and post summer.  Key activities carried out in 2016 in all the districts include:

  • The cities/districts trained 330 medical officers, 604 paramedics, 730 Anganwadi workers, more than 1,000 teachers and more than 24,000 students to recognize heat as a health threat and ways in which to prepare.
  • The cities/districts also prepared and provided written protocols and posters for each hospital for management of heat-related illnesses with designated cool wards equipped with ice packs and other heat management resources in each hospital.
  • The cities/districts’ administrations arranged for more than 300 potable drinking water spots for vulnerable citizens and more than 130 cool spots and shelters including parks and gardens were identified and kept open during the hottest hours of the day. The district of Chandrapur in particular, started a portable drinking water station.
  • Hospitals activated disease surveillance and monitoring among medical staff, accredited social health activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi workers throughout the summer for accurate reporting of heat related illness and death.
  • District administration ran extensive awareness and sensitization campaigns via mediums of cable TV, radio, mobile phone, newspaper with special announcements on red alert days.

Here are some of the efforts undertaken by the 5 cities/district in Maharashtra to safeguard their citizens:

Training of Aanganwadi workers in Chandrapur
Credit: Photo by Dr. Anjali Ambatkar.
Pamphlets distributed to school children in Vidarbha

In 2016, the districts of the Vidarbha region have come a step closer to protecting their most vulnerable populations from extreme heat and coping with the dangerous consequences of climate change. Together with Gujarat and Odisha that are implementing similar resilience plans, the cities/districts in Maharashtra have demonstrated India’s commitment to quickly, yet effectively, advance heat-resilience efforts. With rising temperatures, heat waves will continue to affect India more frequently and more severely. As other parts of the world become warmer, advancing the science around heat and health and sharing knowledge through forums and networks to protect those who are most in danger of its deadly effects is critical in saving lives.

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