Dealing with the heat wave: it is a mistake to underestimate its impact – editorials
On Monday, the Indian Department of Meteorology (IMD) said heat wave conditions are highly likely to continue in Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, eastern Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha until May 28 . Heat wave conditions, he added, are also likely isolated pockets in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Inland Odisha, Gujarat, Madhya Maharashtra, Marathawada, Inland Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Jharkhand for the next two to three days. In the plains, a heat wave is declared if the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40 ° C or more. In recent years, heat waves have become a major severe weather event in India. Twenty-three states were affected in 2019, compared to 19 in 2018. The number of days of heat waves in a year and its severity is expected to increase in the future, thanks to the climate crisis.
In India, more than 6,000 people have died from heat waves since 2010. The maximum number of deaths in the last decade was in 2015, when 2,040 people died. However, the data does not capture the actual number of deaths due to heat waves. This is because while heat stroke and heat exhaustion deaths are recorded, overheating a human body can also lead to organ failure, stroke, and cardiac arrest. They are rarely recorded as heat wave deaths. The National Disaster Management Law, 2005, and the National Disaster Management Policy, 2009, do not have heat waves on the list of natural calamities either, although they are the third natural cause of death. The NDMA has a Heat Action Plan that provides a framework for states to implement, coordinate, and evaluate extreme heat response activities. The plan describes strategies such as establishing an early warning system; train health professionals; improve community outreach to alert people; establish temporary shelters and improve water supply systems. Cities like Surat and Bhubaneswar have implemented many of the guidelines, but most states are lagging behind.
This year, heat waves began when states are busy tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the migration crisis, and few even have to deal with the locust attack. These concurrent disasters (we could see more similar situations in the future) have put pressure on the state machinery. But states have no other choice; they must implement the NDMA guidelines to save lives.