Navi Mumbai deaths point to need to prepare better for heat conditions
Large gatherings are quintessential to the country's social, cultural and political rhythms. Heat action plans (HAP) should be implemented keeping in mind local cultural, ecological and economic conditions.
- On Sunday, Sun stroke attacks claimed the lives of 13 people who were attending a function at Kharghar Navi Mumbai to honour the social reformer, Appasaheb Dharmadhikari. Around 650 participants have fallen sick because of the heat conditions, which seem to have caught organisers of the gathering unawares. The local administration had arranged water supplies but most people could not quench their thirst because the water had become very hot under the blazing sun. The IMD had forecast a maximum temperature of around 35 degrees Celsius at Navi Mumbai. However, on the ground at the event site, it was about 3 degrees hotter than what the Met Office had forecast. The high temperature combined with humidity and exposure to the harsh sun increased the chances of heat stroke attacks.
- Large gatherings are almost quintessential to the country’s social, cultural and political rhythms. But recent weather vagaries pose challenges for organisers and participants of these events that must be addressed at multiple levels. For one, the country needs more observatories that provide robust ground-level weather data. Mumbai’s satellite towns, for instance, remain largely dependent on IMD observatories in Maharashtra’s capital for meteorological information.
- On a fateful day, the organisers of the Navi Mumbai event reportedly relied on data from a station at Santa Cruz, about 30 km away. The administration had arranged for medical assistance at the site of the event. But many of those who fell sick did not seem to have sought help till their condition deteriorated.
- Creating awareness, therefore, should be indispensable to building people’s resilience. Ahmedabad’s decade-long programme could be a good example for cities and towns in the country. In 2010, after a heat wave claimed more than 800 lives in the city, its municipal body sought the help of health and environmental experts to frame the country’s first heat action plan (HAP). The project, launched in 2013, focuses on increasing public awareness, putting in place early warning systems and increasing the capacities of healthcare professionals. Experts believe that the city has avoided more than 1,000 deaths each year since the plan was implemented.
- That said, HAPs can prove effective only if they are attuned to local cultural, ecological and economic characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Today, more than 20 states in the country have such plans. However, as a Centre for Policy Research (CPR) study shows, most of these HAPs fall short of addressing local contexts. They do list categories of vulnerable people — people who work outdoors, the elderly, pregnant women, and families living in slums or poorly-constructed houses. But their solutions do not focus adequately on these groups. Under-resourced municipalities lack the wherewithal to deal with the challenges posed by the elements. There is now a large body of literature that warns about the increasing frequency of heat waves. The Navi Mumbai deaths should alert policymakers about the urgency of equipping people better to deal with such challenges.