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With Temperatures Rising, Major Indian City Moves Closer to Releasing Life-Saving Heat Action Plan

Anjali Jaiswal

Posted March 20, 2013 in Solving Global Warming

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Although India’s heat season is only revving up for the year, my colleague, Dr. Kim Knowlton, and I are definitely feeling the heat. Here in Ahmedabad, we’ve seen daily temperatures peak between 101°F and 103°F (38°C and 39.5°C) this week. That’s exactly why we’re here—to help the Ahmedabad government protect the 7 million residents in this rapidly growing region from extreme heat. We are working with local government leaders to finalize their draft Heat Action Plan, a groundbreaking effort to safeguard residents from the risks of extreme heat, including heat-related illnesses, stressed healthcare systems and infrastructure, and even death. Here is Kim’s take on this week’s events, including today’s release of our issue briefs by the Mayor of Ahmedabad, Shri Asit Vora, as discussed in detail below.

Unfortunately, this week’s sweltering weather is not an anomaly. Due to climate change, daily peak temperatures are rising, and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent. In India, national programs exist to address many effects of climate change, but the country has yet to implement strategies to adapt to increasing heat. Ahmedabad is leading the way, soon becoming the first Indian city address this deadly threat to its residents on the municipal level.

As part of this effort, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is well on its way to finalizing a comprehensive early warning system and preparedness plan for extreme heat events. The final plan will be released on April 17, but we’re already seeing some impressive developments. Because the Ahmedabad government has coordinated with many leading experts and stakeholders—including the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—we expect the final plan to be well designed, effective, and replicable for other cities.

As a part of our broader collaboration with the AMC to develop strategies to protect residents from extreme heat, including the Heat Action Plan, NRDC and our consortium of partners compiled four issue briefs, titled “Rising Temperatures, Deadly Threat,” giving specific recommendations for leading stakeholders and the most vulnerable residents who will be impacted by extreme heat: key government agencies, health care professionals, outdoor workers, and slum communities. 

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Based on scientific studies and focus groups conducted in the city over the past two years, these detailed briefs are intended to help Ahmedabad identify the populations most vulnerable to extreme heat, including their places of residence and work. We’ve also outlined suggested policies and programs to address current and projected future health risks related to extreme heat.

In addition to these assessment steps, the briefs recommend that the government create new patterns and channels for coordination and communication between different government departments, including emergency response, emergency management, health agencies, and meteorological services, to capitalize on existing infrastructure. To protect the health of residents and to ensure better preparedness in the future, the briefs include strategies for the city to adopt, including issuing early warnings, educating residents on health risks, and identifying and addressing current gaps in services during heat waves.

The AMC’s leadership is key to coordinating action among the many municipal government departments and organizations, in order to reduce the devastating health effects of heat stress on local residents. As we’ve recommended, by increasing information sharing, communication, preparedness, and response coordination, Ahmedabad can save lives and set a leading example for other Indian cities to follow.

We look forward to seeing the final details of Ahmedabad’s Heat Action Plan when it is launched in April, and working with Ahmedabad officials and other stakeholders to increase health and safety in the face of increasing extreme heat events.

Co-authored by Meredith Connolly, NRDC Energy Law & Policy Fellow

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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