Wednesday June 26, 2019

“Save Yourself From Sun” : Heat Waves in India Affects the Urban Poor Hardest, says Study

FILE - Indians reach for a cold drink being freely distributed on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, June 5, 2017. Most parts of northern India are experiencing intense heat wave conditions with the temperature crossing 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit). VOA

In summer, life becomes intolerable for rickshaw puller Mohammad Khan.

“I keep running into the shade to save myself from the sun,” he said as he waited for mid-afternoon customers in a busy New Delhi market.

Like millions of others, Khan is experiencing on the ground what a recent study has highlighted: Heat waves in India have become deadlier and further global warming could take a “relatively drastic” human toll in the coming years.

Amir Aghakouchak, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine who co-authored the study, said they found that even small variations in temperature are causing the change.

“While mean temperatures from 1960 to 2009 increased by around 0.5 C degrees, both heat waves and mortality have increased substantially,” he said.

FILE - A girl cools off herself in the waters of the river Ganges during a hot summer morning in Allahabad, India, May 31, 2015. Temperature in Allahabad on Sunday is expected to reach 46 degree Celsius (114.8 degree Fahrenheit).
FILE – A girl cools off herself in the waters of the river Ganges during a hot summer morning in Allahabad, India, May 31, 2015. Temperature in Allahabad on Sunday is expected to reach 46 degree Celsius (114.8 degree Fahrenheit). VOA


Grim warning

The India-specific study is the latest grim warning of how new deadly summer highs are affecting India, where millions cope with perennial shortages of water and power.

Spring became summer when temperatures crossed 40 degrees Celsius in March in several parts of the country this year. Last year was declared the warmest year on record since 1901, and in May 2016, the northern town of Phalodi shattered the national heat record when the mercury touched 51 degrees Celsius. In 2015, the world’s fifth deadliest heat wave seared large swathes of India, claiming about 2,500 victims.

The director of the Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar, Dileep Mavalankar, said, “heat waves are the single most important reason of disaster-related deaths in India in the last few years although only the tip of the iceberg is getting reported.”

Focus on poor people

As record-breaking heat becomes a fact of life, the focus is turned on millions of poor people who are impacted the most by more intense summers, particularly in urban areas.

According to Aghakouchak, “adverse effects are pummeling the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

They are wage workers, such as construction laborers, rickshaw pullers, hawkers and vendors who toil outdoors in the day and live in sweltering slums. And in sprawling cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, where the population tops 20 million, the only shelter people on the street often find is in metro stations or under road bridges.

The deputy director at New Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment, Chandra Bhushan, said what is called an “urban heat island” effect is taking a huge toll on the health, productivity and livelihoods of poor people in cities.

“It’s a concrete jungle where heat gets trapped and many studies indicate that the temperature in city centers is 5 degrees, even 7 degrees higher than the ambient temperature,” he said.

Shorter work days

A report by the U.N. Environment Program last year said workers such as farmers or construction laborers will have to shorten their work days within four decades, simply because it will be too hot outdoors. That could result in significant economic loss for poor people in countries such as India.

Researchers in New Delhi say that is already happening. Studies have demonstrated that street hawkers and others lose three to four hours of work a day because even acclimatized populations are unable to cope with the spiking temperatures.

On a hot summer morning, 17-year-old Anil Kumar, is downcast. He usually hangs around Delhi’s popular landmark India Gate, hoping to make some money taking photos of visitors, but the crowds are much thinner than usual.

“I have come since the morning, but have not got a single customer. It is so sunny, people don’t come,” he said.

FILE - An Indian auto rickshaw driver, right, drinks sweetened water being freely distributed by the wayside on a hot summer afternoon in New Delhi, India, June 5, 2017.
FILE – An Indian auto rickshaw driver, right, drinks sweetened water being freely distributed by the wayside on a hot summer afternoon in New Delhi, India, June 5, 2017. VOA


Heat Action Plan

As studies highlight that the high temperatures are here to stay, there have been growing calls for the government to draw up contingency plans to cope with heat events in the same manner as natural disasters like earthquakes and cyclones.

A handful of cities are now launching a Heat Action Plan begun five years ago in the western Ahmedabad city that has helped bring down heat-related deaths.

Mavalankar said it involves public awareness campaigns, setting up cooling spaces in public buildings, training doctors and alerting supervisors on how to protect laborers.

But the efforts are sporadic and more programs need to be implemented nationwide, experts say.

“You don’t allow people to work in the afternoon, you have availability of water and shelter, you have emergency medical response and office timings are changed,” Bhushan said. “In long term in urban areas, there is a lot of talk of having more greenery in the city to reduce the impact of heat island effect.”

A small start has been made. Last year, the Indian meteorological department began putting out temperature advisories from April to June for 100 Indian cities to encourage people to stay indoors on very hot days. However that is unlikely to help rickshaw puller Khan or photographer Kumar, who have no option but to earn their livelihood under a blazing sun. (VOA)

Next Story

With vast untapped potential in Agriculture, Africa seeks Agricultural Transformation with India’s Help

Africa is estimated to have 65 percent of world's uncultivated land but only about 10 percent of global food output

An agricultural land in Vietnam. Image. Wikimedia

– by Prashant Sood

Gandhinagar, May 28, 2017: With a vast untapped potential in agriculture, African countries are keen to gain from India’s experiences, including the “green revolution”, to bring about a transformation and enable their 420 million poor people to come out of poverty.

Africa is estimated to have 65 percent of world’s uncultivated land but only about 10 percent of global food output.

African Development Bank (AfDB) officials said after their annual meeting here last week that its focus on “transforming agriculture to create wealth” has sparked interest among a vast section, including youth, researchers and the private sector to treat agriculture as a business.

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The meeting boosted Africa’s partnership with India in agriculture as also in several other areas, including infrastructure, electricity generation, skill development and healthcare.

Officials said that AfDB will invest $24 billion in African agriculture in the next 10 years and the sector is estimated to generate $1 trillion in business by 2030.

Chiji Ojukwu, Director, Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department, AfDB, said that India experienced a “green revolution” using improved seed varieties and best agronomic practices, and was able to lift large sections of its population out of poverty — and Africa has a lot to learn from India in order to achieve similar success.

“We can leapfrog, taking advantage of the successes of India, to borrow their technologies and to bring Indian experts to assist Africa,” Ojukwu told IANS.

He said India has made advances in irrigation solutions, milk production, cooling and processing, in solar for generating power for agriculture and Information and Communication Technology.

“African companies and governments can collaborate with Indian agricultural systems and companies to bring these experiences to Africa, to help Africa achieve its agricultural transformation, and lift its 420 million that live on less than $1.25 a day out of poverty,” he said.

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Indian officials said that AfDB’s five key priority areas — Light Up and Power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialise Africa, Integrate Africa and Improve quality of life for the people of Africa — had similarity to some of the thrust areas of the Narendra Modi government.

They said that Industrialise Africa is similar to the Make in India initiative and Light Up and Power Africa to the government’s goal of electricity for all and its efforts to boost renewable energy.

They said that Africa and India had several commonalities in terms of a shared history, challenges as also demographics, with youth comprising over 60 percent of the population.

Indian companies have been investing in Africa in areas such as telecommunications, hydrocarbon exploration, IT, education, water treatment, petroleum refining, retail, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, coal, automobiles, floriculture and engineering.

India is also pursuing long-term arrangements for supply of agricultural products, specially pulses. Its cooperation with Africa is demand-driven and free of conditions.

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Former Foreign Secretary Shashank said India should move much more strongly in Africa.

“India is seen as an alternative to Chinese investment and the kind of conditionalities being imposed on African countries either by the international institutions or Western countries,” Shashank, who was at the conference, told IANS.

He said India can increase its exports to African countries.

“In many cases, we find that our exports are not that competitive but in Africa we can try to make our exports more competitive. Already our bilateral rade has gone fairly high,” he said.

Africa-India trade was estimated at $56 billion in 2015-16, accounting for about 10 percent of India’s total trade.

Shahank said it was “very significant” that the AfDB meeting was held in India for the first time. The five-day annual meeting of AfDB was attended by 54 African members and 27 non-regional member-countries of the organisation. It came almost 18 months after India hosted the third India Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi which was attended by all 54 African countries.

He said it will also help neutralise any negative perception about isolated incidents that had cropped up between the African students in India and the local community.

He also welcomed the Asia-Africa corridor supported by India and Japan, saying the two countries can do quite well in Africa by going together.

“India has that political acceptability, goodwill is there. India goes there, people are happy. Japan’s technology, its finances, Indian fiances and technology and its technical expertise, if they go together, they can do quite well in Africa,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his inaugural address, had said that Africa was a top priority for his government’s foreign and economic policy. (IANS)

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