A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent and duration of weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extremes. This will have a direct impact on people’s security, livelihoods and health in the future, including through increased length, frequency and/ or intensity of heatwaves, increased frequency of heavy precipitation in many regions, intensified droughts across some areas, upward trends in extreme coastal high water levels, and changes in flood patterns. Extreme events such as floods can cause deaths, injuries and disability, and can be followed by infectious diseases (such as cholera), and malnutrition due to crop damage and disruption of food supply. Other health impacts of extreme events may be indirect, but long lasting, and are often associated with mental health impacts such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent globally due to climate change, and a new scale of coordinated action is essential to prevent the dangerous health effects of heat stress. Led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), a coalition of academic, health and environmental groups partnered to prepare local communities for increasingly extreme heat in the city of Ahmedabad, located in Gujarat state of Western India, through an early warning system and heat preparedness plan. Ahmedabad is first city in South Asia to comprehensively address the health threats of extreme heat. This model can be adapted for other rapidly urbanising cities to prepare for heatwaves, as well as extreme weather events such as flooding and cyclones.
When temperatures soared in the Western Indian city of Ahmedabad three years ago, the tin-roofed homes of the city’s slum dwellers became deadly. Built as humble shelters from the rain, these fragile structures turned into solar ovens in the heatwave. They trapped and concentrated the sun’s energy on the unsuspecting residents beneath. During May 2010, government meteorological stations recorded a high of 46.8o C (116oF) in the outside air temperature; the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) found that death rates were ‘substantially’ above normal.
The disaster shook local government – not least because the event appeared to be part of a longer term trend. Daily high temperatures have risen in Western India during recent decades, and hot days are set to become more frequent and intense as climate change continues. The city’s administration joined forces with an international coalition of health and academic groups and threw its efforts into developing the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan. Launched this month and part-funded by CDKN, the Action Plan is the first comprehensive plan of its kind in India, to prepare urban residents for and make the city more resilient to dangerous heatwaves.