Friday, May 24, 2024

Too hot to handle

The past four days have seen two advisories/circulars issued by Government authorities in anticipation of heat waves that are expected to hit the country during the long months of summer. On April 13, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) issued a set of instructions to its divisional authorities. Chief among them were the directives to ensure availability of clean drinking water at all stations, to make sure that all existing water coolers were functional and to deploy water tankers at critical stations. The railway stations at Dimapur and Shokhuvi are covered by the NFR. And on April 15, the State’s Health and Family Welfare Department instructed its district officials to prepare their respective healthcare facilities on Heat-Related Illnesses and disseminate public health advisory on heat and heat waves. “You are aware that above-normal temperatures are likely to prevail over most parts of the country and the State as per the IMD’s seasonal outlook for the summer of 2024. This emphasises the need to strengthen health sector preparedness for prevention and management of heat-related illnesses”, read the Health Department’s circular. As concerning as they are, these moves are nonetheless understandable. If the record breaking temperatures of the past 12-odd months are any indication, the heat wave is likely to become more intense this year. The Railways and Health authorities have initiated some pre-emptive measures. And that makes us wonder about the Power Department too. Because uninterrupted (or at least prolonged) power supply is just as vital so that people can at least use their cooling fans or coolers. Extreme heat waves also lead to loss of lives, as has been the case almost every year, and the best way to prevent such deaths is to equip citizens with the instruments to tackle those problems. India is one of the most susceptible nations to the effects of climate change. Every year, thousands of people are killed by more extreme weather events including heat waves, severe flooding and droughts ~ which further worsen economic conditions by reducing agricultural productivity. In addition, it strains the nation’s energy resources by increasing the need for fossil fuels and depleting hydropower resources. Heat waves also have a substantial effect on human health. Heat-related ailments like heat exhaustion and heatstroke are on the rise, especially in susceptible populations including the elderly, young children and outdoor labourers. Furthermore, heat waves can make pre-existing conditions worse, like respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. The healthcare costs associated with heat-related illnesses can be significant, particularly for vulnerable groups who may not have access to affordable healthcare. In addition, heat waves can lead to a decrease in worker productivity, which can impact economic growth. Even more terrible than the current heat wave is the reality that they are here to stay. Hot spells, such as droughts, floods and landslides, will become more common in the upcoming days, years and decades as the climate emergency worsens. The climate situation is so dire that we are now already talking of adaptation techniques, as mitigation and resilience measures are not enough. Still, in a broader context, it projects a rather bleak picture of a world hurtling towards a catastrophe one year to the next without actually caring to comprehend the devastating consequences that lie before us resulting from climate change. Despite demonstrating political intent in finding a solution to the ever-growing problem, the developed countries that are accountable for much of the current situation have done little to show through their actions. The constant flow of rhetoric is the only persistent message that has emanated on behalf of seeking a lasting solution. And if there is any way we can shield ourselves from the ongoing effects of climate change on food production, it would be to focus on governance issues. As we stare into a bleak future with extended seasons of hotter days, we need to immediately come up with collective and localised adaptation measures.