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HomeDelhiCities devise measures to tackle heat island effect | Latest News Delhi

Cities devise measures to tackle heat island effect | Latest News Delhi

Urban areas tend to be warmer than rural areas due to the heat island effect — tightly spaced, tall buildings, along with roads, industries, and other infrastructure absorb solar radiation and re-emit heat, causing cities to be several degrees hotter than surrounding areas.

Some cities will put up drinking water stations in high footfall areas. (Praful Gangurde/HT photo)

Keeping this in mind, several Indian cities are looking at short-term measures to fight the heat island effect. These measures, city planners believe, may prove helpful as our planet becomes hotter — the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted above-normal temperatures this summer, and a heatwave streak that may last up to 20 days. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, has held a meeting with senior government officials to review the preparedness to deal with heatwaves as India goes to polls from April 19.

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Some of the measures that cities have made include holding medical camps in high-footfall areas of Madurai, special “cool wards” at Bhubaneswar hospitals, and reduced traffic stoppages in Nagpur. Some cities, such as Ahmedabad and Jodhpur, have also advocated the use of cost-effective measures such as “cool roofs” (that use white coating or tiles to absorb less heat) and “green roofs” (made by covering rooftops with vegetation and soil over a waterproofing membrane) to reduce the heating of houses.

Ahmedabad has gone a step further — mist sprinklers, as seen in some European and West Asian cities, have been fitted as a pilot project at traffic junctions along the Kankaria lakefront and its vicinity as a cooling mechanism. If the pilot project is successful, the Ahmedabad municipality has proposed making these mist-spraying systems a permanent feature across city.

However, the large-scale adoption of such permanent measures is mostly led by the non-government sector.

Ahmedabad’s mist dispensers, novel in the Indian context, is an extension of the city’s heat action plan (HAP), which has been in place since 2013. Ahmedabad was the first city in south Asia to put such a plan in place after a particularly nasty heatwave in 2010 led to the deaths of 1,300 people.

The city also updates its plan regularly, with active collaboration of non-government agencies — this year, the municipal body has budgeted 50 lakh to implement HAP. “There are also other budgetary sources like promotion and publicity, that are tapped into to make necessary arrangements to put the heat action plan to work,” Dr Tejas Shah, deputy health officer, said.

He said the civic body has over the years been running awareness campaigns about the risks and best practices with regards to heat exposure. Other than TV, radio and pamphlets, this year, the city has installed hoardings in 240 places and large screens in more than 60 spots.

“The most vulnerable groups, as we know, are construction workers, factory staff, traffic police, the elderly, children, pregnant women, the homeless, and slum dwellers. We have a strategy for each and every vulnerable group,” Shah said, adding that Asha and anganwadi workers — armed with oral rehydration solution (ORS) packets — have been deployed since the start of the summer to spread awareness.

Following in the footsteps of Ahmedabad, more than 200 cities and districts have now prepared heat action plans, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which conducted a review of preparedness held in February.

In Thane, for example, the municipality quantified the impact of humidity on temperature stating that humidity can add 5-6 degrees in addition to dry temperature during peak summer hours.

Civic officials are currently conducting a survey in the Wagle ward, which was identified as the most vulnerable in the district, with 40% of the population falling in the age bracket of 50-60 years and above. “Through this, we are getting information about what cooling facilities they can afford. The residents were also surveyed about what they feel would help them navigate heat stress,” said Vishwas Chitale, senior programme lead for the think tank CEEW, who collaborated in forming Thane’s HAP.

Through this, it has been decided that there will be arrangements made to put up drinking water stations in the main squares of the ward.

HAP prioritises an early warning system, which are issued based on heatwave predictions by IMD, based on three colour codes — yellow, orange and red. IMD issues a yellow alert when heatwave conditions persist for two days in isolated pockets. An orange alert is issued when severe heat is expected to stay for more than two days or heatwave may persist for four days. Meanwhile, a red alert is issued when a severe heatwave is expected over more than two days, or the total number of heat/severe heat wave days are expected to be more than six.

C Dinesh Kumar, the municipal commissioner of Madurai, said heat advisories are issued using local media, which ask people to avoid venturing out between 12 noon and 3pm based on IMD warnings. He said the city will put up 120 drinking water stations in high footfall areas and set up medical camps in view of the elections and multiple festivals scheduled in April.

“We are ensuring there is adequate ORS in all public health facilities, we are also studying if we need to create temporary shelters in busy bus stations,” Kumar said, adding all water availability and quality-related complaints are being addressed to ensure supply of water.

Shah from Ahmedabad said that the city administration has arranged for drinking water facilities, ORS at more than 250 bus stations in the city and deployed seven mobile drinking water stations to tackle the issue of dehydration. In addition, 570 water stations have also been set up by non-government entities.

“We issue alerts on orange and red alert days,” he said.

Rajashree Kotharkar, professor at Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in Nagpur and a sectoral expert said these short-term activities are showing positive results not only in Ahmedabad but across the country. “Since 2016, the number of heat-related mortality has reduced in the country, which means that short-term measures of early warning systems and active coordination among different arms of the government are working,” she said.

Kothakar, who also presented a framework for a model heat action plan for cities at this year’s NDMA workshop, said that HAPs in many parts of the country now need to be updated, recognising the most vulnerable areas of the city. She also advocated surveys and studies involving the population to determine health-based thresholds like bearable temperature for different cities and demographics.

Aditya Valiathan Pillai of the Sustainable Futures Collaborative, who recently co-authored a Centre for Policy and Research report analysing 37 of India’s heat action plans in March 2023 said on a positive note that more and more different arms of the government machinery were getting involved in these heat action plans.

“This year at the annual NDMA workshop, we saw interventions from multiple sectors such as railways, armed forces, and the power sector on their efforts in an area that was previously dominated by disaster management and public health,” he said. However, he said very few of these HAPs are adequately localised or have the financial or legal backing to be implemented.

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