Members of various national and regional meteorological and public health institutions congregated in Delhi on March 28 to attend National Workshop on Heat Wave Forecasts for State Level Preparedness. The workshop was organised under the leadership of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) to help states prepare for the health impacts of heat waves.
The India Meteorological Department, along with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), is warning the States to implement Heat Wave Action Plans which describe step-by-step procedures to be taken by them.
Before we go to look at the Action plans, let us learn background.
What are Heat waves?
A Heat Wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season. In India, Heat Waves typically occur between March and June, and in some rare cases even extend till July.
Criteria for declaring Heat Waves
- Heat Wave need not be considered till maximum temperature of a station reaches atleast 40*C for Plains and at least 30*C for Hilly regions
- When normal maximum temperature of a station is less than or equal to 40*C Heat Wave Departure from normal is 5*C to 6*C Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 7*C or more
- When normal maximum temperature of a station is more than 40*C Heat Wave Departure from normal is 4*C to 5*C Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 6*C or more
- When actual maximum temperature remains 45*C or more irrespective of normal maximum temperature, heat waves should be declared.
Health Impacts of Heat Waves
- The health impacts of Heat Waves typically involve dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke. The signs and symptoms are as follows:
- Heat Cramps: Ederna (swelling) and Syncope (Fainting) generally accompanied by fever below 39*C i.e. 102*F.
- Heat Exhaustion: Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and sweating.
- Heat Stoke: Body temperatures of 40*C i.e. 104*F or more along with delirium, seizures or coma. This is a potential fatal condition
- The elderly are particularly at risk since higher temperatures affect blood viscosity and raise the risk of thrombosis.
The heat waves have killed 22,562 people between 1992 and 2015. The number of casualties came down drastically to 1,111 from 2,040 in 2015. It was from 2016 that the IMD began giving heat wave forecasts and the States began considering plans.
The Role of NDMA
The response to distress caused by excessive heat has to be both speedy and professional.
- National Disaster Management Authority is guiding States, in partnership with the India Meteorological Department, to evolve heat action plan protocols.
- Better meteorological forecasting can provide an early warning about a coming hot spell during the summer window.
- This gives the NDMA and the States sufficient opportunity to launch an action protocol: to inform the public as soon as the temperature crosses the threshold fixed by the IMD, advise on precautionary measures, and aid those who are most vulnerable, such as older adults, farm workers and those pursuing outdoor vocations.
Heat Action Plan (HAP)
The Heat Action Plan aims to implement four key strategies:
- Building Public Awareness and Community Outreach to communicate the risks of heat waves and implement practices to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses.
- Disseminating public messages on how to protect people against extreme heat through media outlets and informational materials such as pamphlets and advertisements on heat stress prevention
- New efforts being launched as part of this year’s Plan include the use of modern media such as SMS, text messages, email, radio and mobile applications such as Whatsapp.
- Special efforts will be made to reach vulnerable populations through inter-personal communication as well as other outreach methods.
- Initiating an Early Warning System and Inter-Agency Coordination to alert residents of predicted high and extreme temperatures
- Capacity Building among Health Care Professionals to recognize and respond to heat-related illnesses, particularly during extreme heat events.
- Such trainings focus on primary medical officers and other paramedical staff, and community health staff so they can effectively prevent and manage heat-related cases so as to reduce mortality and morbidity
- Reducing Heat Exposure and Promoting Adaptive Measures by launching new efforts including mapping of high-risk areas of the city, increasing outreach and communication on prevention methods, access to potable drinking water and cooling spaces during extreme heat days.
- Collaboration with non-governmental organizations is also identified as a means to expand outreach and communication with the city’s most at risk communities.
Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation set an example of best practice to tackle Heat waves in 2010 and since then has been handling well with support from public health institutions.
- In this plan, the important intervention was the prediction of weather at least seven days in advance. Then people were alerted about the weather conditions.
- Preparing the health system to identify health symptoms of heat stress and providing treatments through urban centres.
- Reviewing School Timetables, rescheduling work hours to cooler time of the day.
- Making Water pots widely available throughout the city, additional water was supplied to people during extreme heat waves.
- More public places were created for people in the city where they could take rest through tents for shades and reserving the Libraries and the religious sites as the cooling centres.
These measures should be adopted and Ahmedabad Plan has to be implemented across the states by the respective State Disaster Management Authority.
Global Best Practices can be adopted
- England’s heat wave plan has short- and long-term plans for the health sector which include building zero-carbon hospitals, developing temperature-resistant drugs and more efficient public transport for staff and patients to lower heat generated by motor vehicle use and car parks.
- American policy responses such as creating green and blue spaces to provide tree-shade and higher moisture. Housing designs that cuts through the albedo effect of reflected solar energy hold universal appeal and are long term solutions.
- Exposure to heat is the third most deadly natural cause for mortality according to the National Crime Records Bureau, in spite of being notoriously difficult to pin down as a cause of death and severely underreported.
- Moreover, heat waves are not categorised as a natural disaster, making them ineligible to be covered under central governmental compensation schemes. Local governments have woken up to the perils of heat waves and the need for preparedness is slowly being recognised in several regions of the country.
- It is essential to study the efficacy of these plans and share the results across the states so that each of them suitably adopt these best practices and save vulnerable lives from the wrath of Heat stress.