As India suffers from an incessant heat wave that has already proven to be deadly across the continent, city officials from Allahabad in the north to Hyderabad in the south are grappling to find ways to better protect and prepare residents from the scorching temperatures. As experts warn that heat waves are expected to become more intense and more frequent around the world in coming years due to climate change, these efforts are more urgent than ever.
The northwestern city of Ahmedabad has stepped up to lead on heat preparedness, putting in place India's first Heat Action Plan after a deadly heat wave hit the city in May 2010. The Heat Action Plan, launched in 2013 and described in detail here, builds awareness among vulnerable groups and capacity among medical staff before the extreme heat season, alerts the public of coming temperatures and provides interventions like cooling centers and water stations when heat waves hit, and implements longer-term urban planning to prepare residents for hotter temperatures in the future.
Since 2013, the city's awareness-building materials including hoardings (billboards) and pamphlets, 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 headway in reducing heat-related illnesses and deaths in Ahmedabad.
To get a sense of the transformation in the city's approach to heat emergencies after the Heat Action Plan was adopted, one needs to look no farther than the local news. This local media coverage from Ahmedabad - with English subtitles provided - from May 2010 and June 2014 shows the stark difference in levels of preparedness within the city from the top health officials to the local hospitals.
MAY 2010 HEAT WAVE VIDEO
2010 May Coverage from Meredith Connolly on Vimeo.
Here is a local TV news report focused on victims of the heat and emergency response at a hospital in Ahmedabad during the devastating May 2010 heat wave, that resulted in over 1,300 deaths in the city:
Courtesy of TV9 in Ahmedabad, May 2010.
MAY 2014 HEAT WAVE PREPAREDNESS VIDEO
Compare that coverage to the local TV news report showing proactive preparation and alerts issued by the Ahmedabad Municipal Commission, ahead of extreme temperatures forecast in June 2014:
2014 June Heat Action Plan Coverage from Meredith Connolly on Vimeo.
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation put together this Heat Action Plan with a coalition of local and international scientists and policy experts at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Natural Resources Defense Council, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. Georgia Institute of Technology's CFAN group provides a pioneering daily 7-day forecasts to the AMC.
Local, on-the-ground climate preparedness actions, like Ahmedabad's Heat Action Plan, are critical to save lives throughout India during tragic heat waves like this one. Other cities and states around the country have an opportunity to craft similar plans to protect their residents from the next deadly heat wave.
More information about the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan and supporting materials is available here.
For additional recent blogs about this project protecting health against rising temperatures and heat waves in India:
- Blog on the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan in the context of the current heat wave: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/anjali-jaiswal/devastating-heat-wave-bears-down-indian-city-offers-life-saving-plan
- Medium article about how other cities can follow Ahmedabad's example: https://medium.com/natural-resources-defense-council/feeling-the-heat-91ad1c6a5cca