Rural residents in Bihar learn about heatwave preparedness and early response
Millions of people in rural India are both ill-informed and ill-prepared to handle the heatwaves that are increasing in duration and frequency. SEEDS India is raising awareness amongst villagers in Bihar on simple measures they can adopt to protect themselves in the scorching summers.
Lovely Kumari 26 April 2022 3:31 PM GMT
Hulasi (Patna), Bihar
A heatwave has gripped large parts of India and in the coming days, the India Meteorological Department, forecasts soaring temperatures. While some cities and urban centres have heatwave action plans in place, millions in rural India neither have information about heatwaves nor ways to prevent exhaustion and heat strokes they could cause.
In the villages of Bihar, a unique initiative is underway where rural residents are being made aware of simple ways they can beat the heat and stay safe in the summer season. Even rural children are part of this training exercise, which is being conducted by SEEDS (Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society) India, a New Delhi based non-profit that works on disasters and helps build resilience in rural communities.
The aim of this training programme, which has been conducted in at least 30 villages in the state so far, is to educate villagers about the preventive measures to adopt in order to stay safe during the heatwave conditions, informed Nidhi Kumar, programme officer with SEEDS India.
On April 16, one such awareness and training programme was organised at Hulasi village, about 36 kilometres from the state capital, Patna. The session, which was mostly attended by about 80 women and children, involved interactive sessions and presentations through charts and lectures on the hazards posed by the scorching heat. Villagers were also made aware of global warming and climate change.
"We have learnt so many things in this campaign. We learnt it was important to stay hydrated, wear light weight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothes and whenever we are outdoors, we should cover our head with a cloth and carry a water bottle wrapped with jute so that water remains cool," Suraj Kumar, a 26-year-old resident of Hulasi, told Gaon Connection.
Nidhi Kumar,who conducted the workshop, told Gaon Connection that the children and the elderly were particularly vulnerable to the heat. "Also, people who work outdoors like rickshaw pullers, daily wage-labourers, and farmers are most adversely affected during heatwave conditions," she said. These sections of the community need to be made aware and trained, which SEEDS is trying to do through its 'beat the heat' programme which is underway since April 1.
Heatwave concerns in rural India
For 40-year-old Mamata Devi of Hulasi village, summers mean a litany of woes. The scorching heat, exhaustion, cooking in furnace-like conditions, and having to work so much harder to fetch water from the local hand pump are the most difficult to contend with.
"Even when the day ends, we hope there will be some breeze. We cannot afford coolers or electric fans so if it's not breezy we have to use a hand fan to help ourselves fall asleep," Mamata Devi told Gaon Connection. Recurring power cuts in the summers worsen the sufferings of the rural residents, complain villagers.
"The reason why heatwaves are more prevalent in rural areas nowadays is due to the loss of green cover. Orchards and forests have been cut recklessly," Ashok Kumar, project manager at the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority, told Gaon Connection.
"Wells, small ponds and rivers are also drying up in rural areas and villagers are building cemented houses which heat up as opposed to the mud houses which were built earlier. These factors have led to a greater vulnerability of the rural residents during the heatwaves," he added.
Many rural Indians seek the help of traditional foods such as sattu and bael sharbat to keep cool in summers. But, in a changing climate, with global temperatures rising, traditional wisdom was no longer enough to beat the heat, the villagers said.
"We depend on cooling foods like sattu (flour made of roasted black grams), aam-panna (a cold beverage made of boiled raw mangoes) and neembu paani (lime water) to soothe ourselves from the blistering heat but these edibles are getting dearer with every passing day," Manoj Kumar, a 45-year-old resident of the Hulasi village lamented.
"Lemons are out of bound for us, they are so expensive. Also, the early arrival of summers has had an impact on the mango yield as well. In my household, the aam panna is not being consumed as frequently as it was in previous summers," said Manoj Kumar.
"We were supposed to develop and get comforts at par with people living in cities but what has happened over the years is that we are losing even the few comforts we had in our villages," the 45-year-old sighed.
Heatwave – a silent killer and a disaster
In its official press release issued at 12:30 pm on April 26, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a warning that heatwave conditions will prevail over eastern parts of the country in the 'next four to five days' (April 30-May 1) while the central, northwestern and western parts of India are likely to experience the heat wave from tomorrow (April 27) onwards.
IMD also noted in its press statement that in the past 24 hours, heat wave conditions prevailed in isolated pockets over south Gujarat, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal.
Parag Talankar, director of the resource and mobilisation wing at SEEDS India told Gaon Connection that heatwaves are not merely silent killers but full fledged disasters and a lot more needs to be done to help people acquire awareness to stay safe during summers.
"Earlier heat waves were not considered a disaster. But now according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the heatwave is also a disaster and ever since the heatwave has been classified as a disaster in 2016, as of now 22,000 deaths have been officially registered with the NDMA due to the heatwave," Talankar said.
What is exactly a heatwave?
The IMD, in its set of frequently asked questions, has a specific definition of the heatwave.
The IMD defines a heatwave as a condition, where the air temperature is so high that it could become fatal to humans who are exposed to it. "Qualitatively, heat wave is a condition of air temperature which becomes fatal to the human body when exposed. Quantitatively, it is defined based on the temperature thresholds over a region in terms of actual temperature or its departure from normal," the weather authority said.