Several Indian states and cities boast of Heat Action Plans. But how good are they?
The Heat Action Plans are a set of policies formulated to check the stress caused by extreme heat on public health. There are a total of 37 HAPs across various states, cities and districts. But a recent assessment of these plans found them below the mark. Details here.
गाँव कनेक्शन 19 Jun 2023 2:07 PM GMT
In this season’s heat wave, more than 100 people have lost their lives in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with the latter's Ballia district registering the highest number of fatalities till date — 68 in the last four days. Also, the cases of hospitalisations in Ballia have soared to at least 500.
In such a situation, the Heat Action Plans [HAPs] — a strategy to reduce the disastrous effects of the heat waves on public health — are in the spotlight. At present, there are a total of 37 HAPs across 18 states which are most vulnerable to the impact of extreme heat. These states include Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
According to the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a Delhi-based think tank, HAPs are guidance documents prepared by state, district, and city governments to help prepare for, respond to, and recover and learn from heat waves.
“One of their most important functions is to direct scarce healthcare, financial, information, and infrastructural resources to those most vulnerable to extreme heat in that jurisdiction. This requires regular assessment of who is vulnerable and whether HAP interventions are reaching them,” the think tank mentioned in its assessment report of the HAPs in India.
It is important to mention that the first HAP was launched by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in 2013 with assistance from national and international academic experts. Now there are at least 37 HAPs across various Indian states, districts and cities.
But how good are these heat action plans?
According to a research conducted by the Centre for Policy Research titled How Is India Adapting to Heatwaves?: An Assessment of Heat Action Plans With Insights for Transformative Climate Action, “India has made considerable progress by creating several dozen heat action plans in the last decade. But our assessment reveals several gaps that must be filled in future plans,” Aditya Valiathan Pillai, associate fellow at CPR and co-author of the report, was quoted in a news report.
"If we don't, India will suffer damaging economic losses due to decreasing labour productivity, sudden and frequent disruptions to agriculture (like we saw last year), and unbearably hot cities as heat waves become more frequent and intense,” he added.
Major findings of the CPR report released this year:
- Most HAPs are not built for local context and have an oversimplified view of the hazard;
- Nearly all HAPs are poor at identifying and targeting vulnerable groups;
- HAPs are underfunded;
- HAPs have weak legal foundations;
- HAPs are insufficiently transparent;
- Capacity building is sectorally-targeted
“None of the HAPs reviewed explore policy integration across all listed interventions. Many actions in agriculture, water, housing, infrastructure, and urban design could usefully be linked to existing policies to unlock capacity and finances,” the CPR report added.
Rising heat is a killer
Between 1992 and 2015, the heat waves caused 24,223 deaths across the country. This comes to 1,053 deaths per annum, or almost three deaths per day! This is recorded in a study report titled Beating The Heat - How India Successfully Reduced Mortality Due To Heat Waves, which was published by the National Disaster Management Authority.
“Until 2015, the deaths and diseases heat waves brought were not accorded due recognition at the national level as hazards. That was unfortunate, as annual deaths in India due to heat-wave conditions were high and could have been avoided with effective planning, coordination and implementation,” the report mentioned.
According to the study, the HAPs help the state governments to develop measures and strategies for heatwave assessment, forecast, preparedness and mitigation through coordinated efforts with multiple agencies.
“In this way, states and local authorities are able to undertake long-term mitigation measures to reduce the negative impacts of heat-wave conditions,” it noted.
How dangerous are heat waves?
As per World Health Organization’s official note on the heat waves, global temperatures and the frequency and intensity of heat waves will rise in the 21st century as a result of climate change.
“High air temperatures can affect human health and lead to additional deaths. Extended periods of high day and nighttime temperatures create cumulative physiological stress on the human body which exacerbates the top causes of death globally, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus and renal disease,” it notes.
It further added that heatwaves can acutely impact large populations for short periods of time, often trigger public health emergencies, and result in excess mortality, and cascading socioeconomic impacts (e.g. lost work capacity and labor productivity).
“They can also cause loss of health service delivery capacity, where power-shortages which often accompany heatwaves disrupt health facilities, transport, and water infrastructure,” it added.