Co-authored by Meredith Connolly, NRDC Energy Law and Policy Fellow; and Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist and NRDC Science Center Deputy Director
Hospital superintendents like Dr. R S Shah at Ahmedabad's Smt. Shardaben General Hospital are preparing their medical staff for an influx of heat stroke patients. Extra ice packs are on hand. Tests are ready to analyze potential organ damage caused by heat illness. A special counter has been formed at all of the city's hospitals and Urban Health Centres for heat stroke patients. Ahmedabad is bracing for continued extreme heat that already has residents sweltering. Temperatures in the northwestern Indian city are expected to reach a scorching daily high of 110Â°F (43Â°C) every day for the next seven days, spiking to an even more dangerous high of 113Â°F (45Â°C) early next week.
Until 2013, the top floors of Shardaben General Hospital, which serves some of the city's poorest communities, would have been even more unbearable for its patients and staff during extreme heat like this. The hospital replaced its black tar roof with white china mosaic tiles to reflect (rather than absorb) some of the sunlight bearing down. The neonatal ward, where vulnerable new mothers and babies stay, was also moved from the oven-like top floor to the cooler bottom floor of the hospital that year.
The white china mosaic tile roof of Ahmedabad's Smt. Shardaben General Hospital (2014)
Â© Nehmat Kaur, NRDC
These protective actions are all part of an innovative Heat Action Plan the city adopted two year ago to reduce heat-related illnesses and mortality from extreme heat. The city's leadership recognized that rapid urbanization and climate change could exacerbate the already-hazardous heat experienced in Ahmedabad in the coming years. In 2013, the city government, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), collaborated with NRDC, the Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (IIPH), and other international partners to prepare the first city-level early warning system and heat preparedness plan in South Asia.
Last week, Ahmedabad released its 2015 Heat Action Plan, expanding its safety measures aimed at protecting the city's residents from extreme heat. As temperatures climb, new efforts already undertaken this month include the AMC's nodal (lead) officer Dr. Tejas Shah leading a survey to identify all existing safe public drinking water sources (more than 700) and potential sites for new water sources (more than 400). The AMC also instructed construction sites throughout the urbanizing city to provide water and shelter for rest to outdoor construction workers during the hottest part of the day. Awareness campaigns including hoardings (billboards) with heat protection tips and SMS text messages warning when temperatures reach dangerous levels are also in place. With straight-forward interventions like these, the Heat Action Plan is building resilience to heat in Ahmedabad and offers a model for other cities and states looking to address the deadly threat of rising temperatures.
As AMC Commissioner Thara described as she released the plan last week, "It is proactive, not reactive, and that is the most important part of it."
Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Thara (third from left) accepts an award on behalf of the AMC from the NRDC and IIPH teams in Ahmedabad on April 15, 2015.
Â© Kim Knowlton, NRDC
Rising temperatures and scorching heat are making it difficult for people across India to carry out their day-to-day activities. Children, the elderly, poor residents in city slums, and people who work outdoors are particularly vulnerable to the dangerous impacts of extreme heat in cities like Ahmedabad.
More and more, cities and states have begun to realize the need for action against extreme heat. Ahmedabad's initiative to address extreme heat has encouraged other cities to create their own heat action plans. The state of Odisha is also leading with strong statewide actions to address heat that can act as a model for statewide heat preparedness plans.
During a country-wide workshop held in Ahmedabad last week, the AMC, NRDC, IIPH, international experts, and city, state and national government officials, discussed ways to improve and strengthen responses to extreme heat. Experts, researchers, scientists, and government officials representing cities such as Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Surat, and Hyderabad, the state governments of Odisha and Gujarat, the Indian Meteorological Department, and the Ministry of Earth Sciences shared their experiences in building heat resilience.
As the heat continues to bear down on Ahmedabad and local medical staff prepare for a wave of patients suffering from heat illness, the AMC's Heat Action Plan should help prepare and warn the city's most vulnerable citizens from its worst impacts. NRDC and its project partners are continuing to work closely with Ahmedabad and other interested governments at all levels to develop early warning system and disaster preparedness plans across India.