Spotlight Activity: Heatwave impacts intensifying in India, the country must think about a new policy to manage them!
Heatwave incidences and impacts are increasing around the globe. In India, heatwave has been a major concern for more than two decades now. If we go by the latest studies, climate change is all set to increase the spread of heatwave related devastations further. A recent study by Prof Elfatih Eltahir of MIT and others found that heatwaves could impact the exposure of 70 percent of Indian people to extremes of 32 – degree wet-bulb temperatures by 2100. That’s a 3500 percent increase. Further, the study says that 2 percent of Indians will sometimes be exposed to the survivability limit of 35 degrees. This will have multiple impacts, going beyond the people who will be directly affected. As Prof. Elfatih puts it, “With the disruption to the agricultural production, it doesn’t need to be the heat wave itself that kills people. Production will go down, so potentially everyone will suffer.”
Another study, conducted by Vimal Mishra and others at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, published in December 2017, says that the frequency of severe heat waves in India will increase 30-fold by 2100 under a 2 degree C warming scenario and almost 75-fold under a business-as-usual scenario. According to Vimal, heat waves like 1998 are projected to occur every year in the late 21st century under a business-as-usual scenario.
Status: Standing Still
While the whole of India is suffering from increased intensities and impacts of heatwaves, there is no national level policy to deal with the same. A few states and cities have taken up some successful efforts to adapt to heatwave conditions, however they are insufficient and sporadic at the moment. Odisha state in eastern India, for example, has been praised globally for its various disaster coping actions including that of reducing deaths due to heatwave. From more than 2000 deaths in 1998 due to heatwaves, the state has been successfully able to reduce this to two digit figures, though not to zero yet. States like Ahmedabad in Gujurat state and some other cities have prepared ‘Heat Action Plans’ but most of them are limited to a few adaptation actions. Climate Scorecard cannot rate the entire country on the basis of a few examples. However, considering that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has issued guidelines for preparation of Heatwave Action Plans for the cities, we can rate it at Two Stars. However, there is a lot needed to be done to convert these guidelines to real action.
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Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Govt of India
Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Govt. of India