Heat Waves in India
According to government minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, there has been an increase in the frequency of heat waves in India. Extreme heat poses a particular threat to India’s rural population due to intensive outdoor labor. They make up 25 percent of the country’s most impoverished. Much of India’s 1.8 million homeless also lack cool and safe shelter during heat waves. Until 2015, fatalities due to these heat waves were dramatically on the rise.
However, from 2015 on, there has been a drastic change for the better in the number of Indian fatalities due to heat waves. In 2016, the death toll dropped from more than 2,000 to 700 people. By 2018, that number had dropped to 20. This figure can likely be attributed to the top five ways India combats extreme heat fatalities detailed below.
Top five ways India combats extreme heat fatalities
- Advertising important safety measures both online and in the streets during heat waves has increased. The government’s Official National Disaster Management Authority has tweeted numerous facts and tips daily about factors ranging from what drinks to avoid during the heat wave to prevent dehydration as well as who to call if someone may be showing symptoms of heat stroke or exhaustion. Posters placed throughout Indian cities and villages bring further awareness to the population. Creating an informed society helps to effectively save the lives of potential victims of the heat.
- New legislation was introduced in 2013 to address the needs of citizens and prevent deaths during heat waves. The success of this legistlation was evident through a local heat action plan in the city of Ahmedabad, which was among the first of Indian cities to enact the legal initiative. The plan established an early warning system that serves to spread awareness of and stress preparation for looming weather conditions via public electronic displays. While the number of heat-related fatalities still reached the thousands that year, more than 1,000 deaths were likely avoided due to the city’s plan alone. By 2016, 100 cities across India had either released or were in the midst of developing a heat action plan.
- In 2016, India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) launched an initiative to adjust the working hours of outdoor laborers during heat waves. This especially benefits outdoor, often low-income laborers who are among the most susceptible to extreme dehydration and heat stroke. By temporarily adjusting working hours, groups such as construction workers are no longer forced to work during times when the sun’s heat is most intense. As a result, the chances of obtaining a heat-related illness, let alone of fatality, dropped for a large amount of the population.
- Drinking water kiosks initiatives throughout Indian cities are becoming more widespread. In 2016, India’s NDMA made provisions for clean and easily accessible water a greater priority. For example, India’s Medical Counseling Committee has helped establish kiosks in south Mysuru where water is sold for approximately 80 percent less than the average price. This government strategy not only works to provide their population with a greater and more accessible supply of water in urgent times but it also works to combat extreme global poverty. Contaminated water severely undermines efforts to end national poverty, yet more than one in 10 Indian citizens lack access to clean water. During heat waves, when the need for such an imperative resource is high, it is important that the government continues to provide plentiful access to water that is safe for consumption.
- Special homeless shelters established by the government are opening up during desperate times of extreme heat. Previously, Indian cities such as Ahmedabad only maintained a winter plan for the homeless and had no system of providing proper care during the summer. This issue has been acknowledged by the Indian government as they continue working to mitigate the problem by building more shelters. Additionally, NGOs such as “Humana People to People India” aim to end gender inequality in homeless night shelters since fewer than 8 percent of government-controlled Delhi shelters cater to women. During the heat wave, the NGO provides women not only with a roof above their heads to shield from extreme temperatures but also with available oral hydrating services and a full functioning clinic.
In the last few years, India has made significant strides in protecting its population from the dangers of summer heat waves. While these top five ways India combats extreme heat fatalities have proven successful by India’s annually decreasing toll of heat-related deaths, more initiatives can be made by the government and NGOs alike to see an end to these fatalities completely. Given the drastic improvements these new initiatives have made in the last half-decade, achieving universal heat-wave safety measures is within India’s future.