Solutions for Extreme Heat as India Battles Covid

Co-authored with Prima Madan

India, currently battling a serious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, is facing multiple climate stressors at the same time. Most of the country is already being confronted peak summer heat, and this week many coastal states are also dealing with the effects of Cyclone Tauktoe. Fueled by climate change, heat waves and other extreme weather events longer, more frequently and more intense. Long-term resilience is critical to building a public health infrastructure robust enough to withstand severe short-term crises such as the current pandemic and ongoing climate stressors such as extreme heat. Fortunately, many states and cities are taking action.

To discuss extreme weather preparedness strategies during COVID-19, climate health experts and government officials gathered in India almost this week in a panel discussion entitled, “Strengthen preparedness and response to extreme heat through heat and cool roof action plans. “ Organized by NRDC and partners Climate Trends, Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (IIPH-G), Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) and Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), panelists highlighted how multiple strategies are effective in building resilience against extreme heat. Heat Action Plans (HAPs), which include early warning systems, preparedness strategies, and community outreach, help reduce the death rate and increase the community’s resilience to extreme heat episodes. Based on lessons from 2013 groundbreaking Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, many cities and states similar plans are being implemented in India. In addition, strategies such as cool roofs, which keep indoor temperatures low and address the urban heat island challenge, are effective in providing inexpensive access to cooling.

Expert panel discusses solutions for extreme heat

Highlights from the webinar are below:

Extreme heat is likely to exacerbate the public health crisis

  • The continuous The COVID19 pandemic will inevitably overlap with the health effects of heat waves. Dr. Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar (IIPH-G) noted how the ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19 can cause additional heat wave complications. Heat waves may prove more deadly in times of COVID pandemic, as they exacerbate pre-existing co-morbidities. Building adequate resilient systems is urgent and can help us minimize health and home consequences.
  • Dr. Mavalankar also discussed the importance of an institutional response to heat and other extreme weather events from a public health point of view. He noted that in order to effectively build resilient communities to cope with these extreme weather events due to climate change, local capacity needs to be built in terms of health infrastructure, governance structures and adequate early warning systems. It is important that actions and decisions are also localized to maximize public health benefits.

National agencies help guide heat control

  • The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is at the forefront of heat wave management in the country. Dr. Thiruppugazh, Additional Secretary-NDMA, stressed the need for long-term mitigation through passive cooling measures, better urban planning, more urban and rural water bodies, and a better understanding of the factors affecting heat retention in cities and towns in India. Despite the ongoing pandemic, we have strived to improve states and cities’ preparedness and response to heat wave management.
  • NDMA recently launched the Heat Season 2021 Cool Roofs Challenge to help reduce heat effects. The Cool Roofs Challenge encourages cities to implement cool roofs as part of their Heat Action Plans (HAPs). Dr. Thiruppugazh stressed that initiatives such as the cool roof challenge should be more than one-off efforts. Like heat action plans, these need to be institutionalized to be implemented at scale. NDMA also recently released a new one guide for homeowners on roof cooling solutions to help states and cities take heat reduction measures. Because awareness is also an issue, Dr. Thiruppugazh recommended educating people more widely about cool roofs through a major IEC campaign.

  • Early warning and forecasting systems are critical to help prepare response strategies for extreme heat. Dr. SC Bhan, of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), highlighted how heat waves and other climatic emergencies are increasing, but agencies such as NDMA have stepped up to protect lives after the 2015 heat wave. IMD has made upgrades and changes to early warning systems in response to users’ demands and has now included warm nights as well as regular, detailed forecasts in both urban and rural areas.

States and cities are implementing heat action plans and cooling roofs

  • The Telangana government is committed to making Telangana a “cool state” and building the resilience of communities to extreme heat. The state is implementing the Energy Conservation Building Code, which includes the installation of cool roofs in new commercial buildings, and cool roofs are now included as a corporate social responsibility activity under GHMC to accelerate adoption in vulnerable communities. Mr. Devender Reddy, Chief City Planner, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation highlighted the state’s efforts, noting that the focus on cool roofs in the state is further enhanced by their inclusion in the new ‘Telangana Municipal Act 2019‘.
  • When implemented on a large scale, cool roofs reduce the urban heat island effect and act as a low-cost solution to reduce the need for city-wide cooling while protecting against the negative health effects of extreme heat. Dr. Vishal Garg, Professor of International Institute of Information Technology Hyderabad (IIIT-H), emphasized how cool roofs, as a locally implementable traditional technology, help increase thermal comfort, save energy and save lives.

During the webinar, NRDC and partners released two major publications: “Expanding Heat Resistance Across India: Highlights from Heat Action Plans, May 2021,“An updated release highlighting the actions taken by various states and cities in extreme heat in 2020 and”Protecting people from the health risks of climate change: local experts work together in Ahmedabad,A fact sheet on the additional benefits of climate action.

Responding to the COVID19 crisis is the current priority of governments and institutions around the world. As heatwaves and other more protracted emergencies continue to threaten human health, we need to build resilience and find solutions to mitigate the effects of multiple crises at the same time. In a world where multiple crises exist in parallel, the solutions must also exist in parallel.

Prima Madan is an energy efficiency expert and advisor to NRDC’s India program.

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