Indian City Launches First-Ever Heat Wave Preparation and Warning System

Rising to Climate Change Challenge, Ahmedabad Implements Innovative Strategies to Protect Residents from Deadly Heat

AHMEDABAD (April 16, 2013) – The Indian city of Ahmedabad launched a first-of-its-kind Heat Action Plan today, making it the first city in South Asia to create a comprehensive early warning system and preparedness plan for extreme heat events fueled by climate change. This ground-breaking project, created by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in partnership with an international coalition of health and academic groups, will reduce the deadly impact of extreme heat by initiating an early warning system for residents, providing preparation training to medical and community workers, building public awareness of the heat-related risks, and coordinating an inter-agency emergency response efforts when heat waves hit. 

“Our first priority is the people of Ahmedabad, and they need to be protected from the impacts of climate change,” said AMC Commissioner Shri Guruprasad Mohapatra. “Our Heat Action Plan provides the roadmap we need to save lives when the next dangerous heat wave hits.”  Shri Mayor Asit Vora previewed the draft plan in March and the city has already started taking life-saving actions.  The plan will go for formal administrative approvals of the AMC next week.    

Ahmedabad’s efforts to better prepare for future extreme heat events are, in part, a response to the deadly heat wave in May 2010. Temperatures spiked at 46.8°C (more than 116°F), and hundreds of people died. Extreme heat can lead to dangerous, even deadly, health consequences, including heat stress and heatstroke. As climate change worsens, extreme heat events are expected to become more frequent and more severe.

“Unbearable temperatures are already having a deadly impact in Ahmedabad, and it’s only going to get worse due to climate change,” said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India Initiative. “But Ahmedabad is rising to the challenge by implementing strategies to proactively help its residents adapt to increasing heat. By building awareness, training health professionals, and implementing a coordinated heat plan, Ahmedabad is showing other at-risk regions the way forward.”

Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan describes both immediate and longer-term actions to increase preparedness, information-sharing, and response coordination to reduce the health effects of heat on vulnerable populations. It includes:

  • Preventative training and awareness building for medical professionals and slum community outreach workers
  • Heat-health protection trainings for school children, outdoor workers, and other vulnerable groups.
  • Communications outreach, such as an early warning system that will immediately alert the public of impending heat waves, the distribution of multilingual pamphlets, and long-term awareness-building ad campaigns.
  • Coordinated action by government agencies at the municipal, state, and national levels to ensure successful implementation of the preparedness plan and warning system.

“You cannot build the well once the fire starts. You need to have already dug the well, bought the pump, and put everything in place beforehand. By planning ahead, we can prepare for heat waves before they hit and save many more lives,” said Dr. Dileep Mavalankar, Dean of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar.

Ahmedabad’s efforts are unique in South Asia, as countries and international organizations have yet to establish comprehensive heat preparedness plans in the region. In recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has included among its goals the strengthening of health systems to cope with the health threats posed by climate change. Among seven nations hosting WHO pilot projects related to climate change and health, China has an early heat warning system planned.

“Ahmedabad is leading the way among South Asian cities, setting an example for other cities and regions facing the health risks of a warming climate,” said Kim Knowlton, senior scientist in NRDC’s Health Program and Science Center. “The city’s early warning system and focus on capacity-building are consistent with World Health Organization goals. Ahmedabad has sped ahead of other cities, launching a comprehensive heat response in only two years.”

The launch of this Heat Action Plan is part of a broader collaboration dating back to early 2011 between AMC and public health and policy experts at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, Public Health Foundation of India, Natural Resources Defense Council, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, and Georgia Institute of Technology, and supported by the Climate & Development Knowledge Network.

Robust scientific research, conducted by these health and academic partners during the past two years, provided the basis for Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan. Recommendations were based on analysis of temperature data, mortality data from city hospitals, emergency ambulance call records, heat vulnerability surveys, focus group results, and interviews with government officials.

“Ahmedabad’s most vulnerable populations have been carefully identified through on-the-ground studies, focus groups, interviews, and workshops that considered factors affecting heat exposure, susceptibility to heat-related illness, and adaptive capacity,” explained Dr. Jeremy Hess, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University. “Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan is tailored to help the city’s at-risk residents cope with rising heat.”

In support of the Heat Action Plan, four related policy briefs entitled Rising Temperatures, Deadly Threat, have also been released by the collaboration of partners. These briefs outline key strategies in the Heat Action Plan that cities across the world can adopt to protect against heat wave impacts.

The Heat Action Plan can be found online here: http://www.egovamc.com/downloads/HealthCare/healthpdf/heat_action_plan.pdf

The issue briefs, Rising Temperatures, Deadly Threat, can be accessed here: http://www.nrdc.org/international/india/extreme-heat-preparedness/

Read more about health preparedness efforts to address rising heat in Ahmedabad in Anjali Jaiswal’s blog: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ajaiswal/

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