Indian cities urged to develop heat action plans as temperatures soar

Many parts of India are experiencing heat wave conditions, which typically occur in the pre-monsoon period from April to June, with temperature hovering above 45 degree Celsius. (AP)
Updated 14 June 2019

Indian cities urged to develop heat action plans as temperatures soar

  • At least 36 people have died from a heatwave this year
  • The nation’s capital Delhi recorded its highest-ever temperature of 48 degrees Celsius

BANGKOK: Indian cities need to implement heat action plans that include text-message alerts and cooling stations, to minimize deaths and illnesses related to rising temperatures, climate change experts and human rights activists said on Friday.
At least 36 people have died from a heatwave this year, with the nation’s capital Delhi recording its highest-ever temperature of 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit), and temperatures in Churu in Rajasthan state hitting 51C.
Cities experience higher temperatures because paved surfaces and the lack of tree cover cause “urban heat islands,” said Sayantan Sarkar, who helped implement India’s first Heat Action Plan (HAP) in Ahmedabad in 2013.
“Cities bear the brunt of a heatwave because they are so densely populated, and because the effects are more pronounced,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But not all cities have the capacity to implement the measures needed, and the lack of comprehensive medical records makes it harder to target vulnerable groups such as the homeless and migrant workers,” he said.
Heatwaves in India typically occur in the pre-monsoon period from April to June.
Ahmedabad implemented its HAP after a heatwave in 2010 caused more than 1,300 heat-related deaths.
The plan included an early warning system using electronic displays in public places and text messages, training medical personnel to recognize and respond to heat-related illnesses, and “cool roofs” that used reflective surfaces or coatings to reduce temperatures in low-income and informal housing.
Since its launch, the HAP has helped prevented about 1,100 deaths each year in Ahmedabad, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health last year.
India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) issued guidelines in 2016 for heat action plans based on the Ahmedabad plan. They have since been adopted in more than a dozen states, said Arup Kumar Srivastava, a heatwave expert at NDMA.
“The casualties would be much higher were it not for the heat action plans that many cities have adopted,” he said.
“This year, night-time temperatures have also remained high, which poses additional risks. So the plans need to be modified accordingly,” he said.
A critical feature of Ahmedabad’s HAP is checking on vulnerable populations including the homeless and slum dwellers.
This is particularly relevant in cities such as Delhi, which has one of the largest homeless populations in the country, said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
At least six homeless people probably died from the heat every day from May 1 to June 10 this year in Delhi, with several more deaths going unreported, according to HLRN.
“Homeless persons are most vulnerable to the heat, as the majority live outdoors and do not have access to adequate shelter, drinking water and health care,” said Chaudhry.
“The city has a winter plan for the homeless, which includes setting up temporary tents, but there is no similar effort in the summer — even though they suffer as much, if not more in the severe heat,” she said.
Delhi government officials said in April they are preparing an action plan to minimize the impact of extreme weather conditions including heatwaves, which will be ready in 2020.


China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak eases

Updated 26 January 2020

China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak eases

  • Raising transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden until the epidemic is over
  • The virus has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections

BEIJING: China on Sunday ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals as the country struggles to contain a deadly virus believed to have been spawned in a market that sold wild animals as food.
Raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden “from the date of the announcement until the national epidemic situation is over,” said a government directive.
The ban was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
The lethal virus, which has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections in China, and spread to about a dozen countries, is believed to have originated in a market in the central city of Wuhan, where a range of wildlife was reportedly sold.
Conservationists have long accused China of tolerating a shadowy trade in exotic animals for food or as ingredients in traditional medicines, including highly endangered species such as the pangolin or tiger.
Health experts say the trade poses a significant and growing public health risk as potentially dangerous animal-borne pathogens that people would normal not be exposed to make the jump to humans.
The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 also has been traced to wild animals, with scientists saying it likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
Civets, a cat-like creature, were among dozens of species listed on an exhaustive price list for one of the animal-trading businesses at the Wuhan market that emerged online last week.
Other items included various rats, snakes, giant salamanders and even live wolf pups.
Sunday’s announcement said all businesses, markets, food and beverage outlets and e-commerce platforms are “strictly prohibited from trading in wild animals in any form.”
It added that “consumers must fully understand the health risks of eating wild animals, avoid wild game, and eat healthy.”
The so-called bushmeat trade, along with broader human encroachment on wild habitats, is bringing humans into ever-closer contact with animal viruses that can spread rapidly in today’s connected world, scientists say.
A study by the Global Virome Project, a worldwide effort to increase preparedness for pandemics, estimated that there are nearly 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in the animal kingdom, nearly half of which could be harmful to humans.
Peter Daszak, a virology expert with the project, told AFP its research also indicated that we can expect around five new animal-borne pathogens to infect humanity each year.
China has launched previous crackdowns on the wildlife trade, including after SARS, but conservationists say the trade typically resumes over time.