The month of May is generally the hottest time of the year in India. This time it has been unbearable. Certain parts of India are suffering from extreme heat - soaring temperatures (40C to 50C) have been reported in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, and Maharashtra resulting in more than 1000 deaths in less than one week, and the numbers continue to rise. Alarmingly, this is not a rare occurrence. Higher peak temperatures and longer periods of heat waves are becoming increasingly common in many parts of the world as it does in India where it seem to be recurring with regularity.2014 witnessed high temperatures in Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Odissa. Similarly in 2013, 2012, and 2011, heat wave gripped many parts of the country with 2014 the hottest year on record in India.
Consequently human activities lead to extreme heat events - weather that is different from the usual, is abnormally hot and humid, and sustained over longer periods. Extreme heat events are increasingly being reported in many parts of the world in recent years often resulting in heat-related illnesses and deaths and disproportionately affects the poor in developing countries.
The casualties in the ongoing Indian heat wave are largely construction workers, elderly and the homeless.
How can we help the poor before and during an extreme heat event?
- The authorities must generate extreme heat event management plans far in advance, detailing how the poor would be taken care of during extreme heat events
- Alert the poor using awareness campaigns before an impending extreme heat event so that they are prepared, can take precautions, and know what to do to protect themselves.
- Make provisions for water, re-hydration solutions, and food aid to reach the poor
- Provide emergency medical camps where the poor can seek medical aid. Additionally take medical care to the point of need using mobile clinics- to the homeless and the elderly who may not visit the medical camps
- Provide emergency heat refuges where the poor can take relief from heat. In times of extreme heat events large public outdoor spaces like stadiums and parks could be adapted to provide shelter from the sweltering heat.
- Provide financial relief that would help the poor to refrain from outdoor manual labour until the extreme heat events passes .
- Provide appropriate clothing, sun hats, umbrellas to provide shade etc.
Authors of this post - Ruth Stephen and Tim Whallett