Coping with Extreme Heat in the time of COVID-19

Co-authored with Charlotte Steiner, India Research and Communications Coordinator, NRDC

The Indian government’s weather forecast agency has released its 2021 heat season forecast, warning that in the coming weeks in most of the country “above normal seasonal maximum temperatures are likely”. We know that climate change is the cause longer, more frequently and more intense heat waves than ever before. Every year, heat takes thousands of lives. A 2019 study predicted more than 1 million deaths from heat by the next century. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in India 23 million At present, the country’s health infrastructure is already stretched and rising heat is likely to exacerbate health effects, especially for those already vulnerable to respiratory health from COVID-19. It is vital that cities implement solutions, such as cool roofs, to reduce heat risk and help prevent potential heat-related complications.

Hospitals and urban health centers, already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, may not have the capacity for emergency response for heat-related illnesses. The push for stay-at-home lockdowns is important to getting the crisis under control, but with 9 out of 10 houses in India without AC, that poses its own health risks. Already, parts of India are fighting the onslaught of summer heat – reaching Delhi as early as April 29 107.8 ° F (42.1 ° C, or 3 units above normal for this time of the year). Extreme heat and the COVIC-19 pandemic converge in devastating ways for many, and the Indian government’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is one of the main agencies tasked with dealing with both crises in conjunction with the state governments.

Strategies to Combat Extreme Heat

Multiple approaches are effective in building resilience to extreme heat. NDMA has led states to ramp up Heat Action Plans (HAPs), comprehensive early warning systems and preparedness plans with the goals of public awareness and community outreach; coordination between authorities; capacity building among healthcare professionals; and reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures. HAPs have expanded greatly since they were first deployed in the city of Ahmedabad in 2013. They now reach 23 states and more than 100 cities and districts thanks to the collaboration of NDMA, Indian Meteorological Department and partners including the Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar and NRDC. Beyond community reach, HAPs have proven to be effective in improving heat resistance.

Other strategies, such as cool roofs: roofs painted with solar reflective paint, covered with white tiles, or with white membranesare an easy and cost effective way to keep indoor temperatures low and help tackle the urban heat island challenge. Because they reflect sunlight and absorb less heat, cool roofs can keep the indoor temperature 2 to 5 ° C lower compared to traditional roofs, depending on the environment. These roofs may also lead to less air pollution as they save energy, especially on cooling equipment such as fans and air conditioners.

Prior to the heat season, NDMA launched the Heat season 2021 Cool Roofs Challenge, which encourages cities to implement cool roofs as part of their HAPs. The application deadline for cities and districts is 15 Mayth.

States and cities can act

States have the ability to reduce extreme heat effects by implementing heat actions and cooling roofs. For example the Telangana 2021 Heat Wave Action Plan includes a detailed strategy for installing and scaling cool roofs to 300 square miles in the state by 2031. Telangana’s capital Hyderabad has already installed and has installed 20,000 square meters of cool roofs has included cool roofs as one of its corporate social responsibility tools.

To highlight the actions states and cities are taking to beat the heat this summer, NRDC, NDMA and partners host a webinar ‘Strengthen preparedness and response to extreme heat through heat and cool roof action plans’ at 17th May 2021 and 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM IS, where experts will discuss recommendations and strategies for cities and states to beat the summer heat. Register here.

As India faces the devastating COVID-19 crisis, an effective public health response strategy is more important than ever before. A comprehensive public health response must include solutions that respond both to a short-term crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and to long-term stressors, such as the extreme heat waves sparked by climate change.

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