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.


New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

Updated 24 September 2020

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

  • Thousands of small NGOs that are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally may be forced to shut down
  • Many small NGOs questioned the timing of the new legislation, as they have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI: A new law passed by India’s parliament on Wednesday imposes restrictions that will force thousands of NGOs to shut down, dealing a major blow to the country’s civil society, activists say.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2020, which regulates the use of foreign funds by individuals and organizations, is “for national and internal security” and to “ensure that foreign funds do not dominate the political and social discourse in India,” Nityanand Rai, junior home minister, told the upper house as it passed the regulation on Wednesday.

But Indian NGOs fear that the law will mean they are no longer able to operate.

“Thousands of small NGOs, which enable good work and are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally, will shut down — also endangering the livelihoods of those dependent on them for a vocation,” Poonam Muttreja, director of the Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, told Arab News.

As the new law does not allow NGOs to share funds with any partner, individual or organization, small groups — particularly those active at the grassroots level — may end up being unable to receive the donations on which they depend for survival, Muttreja warned.

“Donors can’t give small grants to local NGOs, so they give large grants to an intermediary organization with the desire to work with grassroot-level NGOs, (of which there are many) in India,” Muttrejia said.

On Thursday, Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) — an umbrella organization for Indian NGOs — held a press conference during which members questioned the timing of the new legislation, since many small NGOs have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the worst possible time to hamper civil society,” the director of Ashoka University’s Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ingrid Srinath, said during the conference. “Just when this country needs its entire civil society to work together with the private sector and the government to address the multiple problems that confront us — not only the health ones but the larger issues of where the economy is going and the many polarizations taking place on the ground.”

Srinath also pointed out that no wider consultation with NGOs had taken place before the law was passed.

According to Delhi-based civil society activist Richa Singh, the law is an attempt by the government to silence dissent in the country.

“The larger purpose is to further silence those civil societies that are critical of (the government). It is a political message to fall in line,” she told Arab News. “While foreign money in the form of investment is being welcomed and labor laws are weakened for it, aid money is selectively targeted.”

Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India, called it a “devastating blow” and also criticized the government’s double standards over the acceptance of foreign funds.

“Red carpet welcome for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday, when the FCRA bill was introduced to the lower house.