Saturday, July 20, 2024

Burning issue

As expected and predicted a punishing heat wave has gripped the world in the past few months. According to reports, temperatures in Boston (US) soared to match those in Delhi and Ahmedabad, crossing 40 degrees Celsius. Delhi saw 38 straight days of highs exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, which resulted in fatalities, health issues, shortage of water and general disruption of daily life. In the past several weeks, there have also been twice as many heat wave days than usual in North-West and North-East India. According to a World Bank study, almost 75% of India’s workforce depends on heat-exposed labour. By 2030, it’s predicted that India will bear over 43% of the world’s job losses due to productivity drops brought on by heat stress. Critically, it means protecting workers. According to a recent UN research, 70% of the 3.4 billion workers worldwide will at some point be exposed to extreme heat. Certain countries, like China and Spain, have specific maximum temperatures above which outside labour must be suspended or extra mitigations must be put in place. The sobering reality that global temperatures are rising and that regions of the earth that are now occupied will become too hot to live in is highlighted by this worrying convergence of heat. Even more troubling is the absence of precise knowledge about the true extent of these heat waves and their impact. The long-term effects of prolonged high temperatures on the health, welfare and way of life of millions of people ~ especially in India ~ remain unclear. For example, Northern India has been experiencing heat waves for the longest period of time in the past 15 years. Certain States have continuously maintained temperatures above 45°C, while comparatively colder States have seen temperatures 3-6°C above average. Compounding the heat crisis is the sluggish monsoon. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the monsoon was supposed to bring normal rainfall in June but has since downgraded it to ‘below normal’, predicting an 8% shortfall. This, however, does not shed light on how the monsoon is doing. Lingering El Nino has been cited as a reason, but high heat conditions have existed in the last three years and are predicted to continue in the coming years. While local and passing issues might aggravate the heat wave crisis, the most important reason is climate change, which is getting worse. Similar to floods and other extreme weather phenomena that occur during the year, heat waves require both immediate and long-term attention. The majority of States have heat action plans however they are frequently not carried out. The majority of mitigation and preventive actions, like planting trees, are understood but not carried out. As excessive heat is becoming a global phenomenon, actions carried out in India must also be in line with those outside the nation. A radical rethinking of the structure and organisation of our communities is necessary to find sustainable solutions that will improve the quality of our environments over the medium term. Nonetheless, it is imperative that the most vulnerable populations be identified and protected right away. We must not shy away from simple, achievable solutions in pursuit of the unattainable. Heat is but one facet of climate change. In addition, crop failures, cyclones, floods, heavy rains and unseasonal rainfall will cause forced population displacement. Despite overwhelming evidence pointing to impending disaster, data and knowledge that could help at local scales remain scarce. With incomplete information, we cannot plan properly. It is imperative to implement strategies that utilise data and information at a lower scale to enable local communities to plan, create, test and validate adaptation approaches. This strategy provides a viable way to fairly confront the difficulties that lie ahead. Complacency is a thing of the past. In order to prevent future generations from inheriting a planet that is too hot to live in, we must take immediate action to ameliorate the heat problem and its wider ramifications.