Bhubaneswar: From stopping work at brick kilns on very hot days to issuing five-day advance warning of heat waves, Odisha is readying a pioneering action plan to prepare for increasingly deadly summer heat, officials said.
Last summer, several states saw week-long June temperatures that topped 47 degrees Celsius, creating the country`s deadliest heat wave since 1998.
That year, 2,541 people died, more than 2,000 of them in Odisha, according to the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), maintained by the Brussels-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
Although Odisha`s 2015 heat death toll was much lower, at 67, the state government is now preparing a comprehensive action plan to deal with heat stress, aiming for zero casualties from heat waves.
The plan has Bhubaneswar, the state`s major city, as its focus, and is based on the Indian city of Ahmedabad`s heat resilience initiative, begun in 2013.
"These regional heat preparedness and disaster response activities together represent a growing movement to respond to climate threats with strong adaptation strategies that connect and empower vulnerable communities and ultimately save lives,” said Kamal Lochan Mishra, an officer of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority.
One focus of the plan is poorer workers whose jobs require them to be outside during very hot periods, such as employees at construction sites, brick kilns and stone-crushing units.
The plan, due out soon, looks at “scaling-up and institutionalising protection” during extreme heat for members of the “economically weaker population that work outdoors”, Mishra told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
New guidelines and warnings will be issued and followed up with strict labour law enforcement at construction sites, factories and worksites under the government rural wage-employment guarantee programme, Mishra said.
Mapping is underway to identify vulnerable working populations and outdoor work locations, he said.
Supported by the national meteorological department, Odisha also plans to create a broader and more refined heat early warning system to help build resilience to heat waves.
India’s meteorological department now provides a five-day heat forecast to more than 100 Indian cities, increasing their capacity to warn residents and prepare. Starting in May, the meteorological department will also issue a “heat index” reading for the first time.
Factoring in humidity as well as temperature, the index will more accurately indicate the genuine level of discomfort felt during summer heat. Temperature and humidity levels, considered together, will determine the threshold for heat wave alerts, Mishra said.
Although temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius for two consecutive days are considered a heat wave, a 37-degree Celsius reading accompanied by high humidity can also result in heat-stress disorders, officials said.
Bhubaneswar experiences up to 85 percent humidity in the summer, with Odisha’s coastal regions facing even higher humidity.