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Multifaceted Risks of Heat Waves in the Changing Climate: A Call for Inclusive Actions


Addressing the intensifying impact of heatwaves in South Asia, Professor Mahbuba Nasreen shares her insights and recommendations from a recent Round Table discussion held in Bangladesh.



Embarking on the journey as the Regional Lead of GRRIPP South Asia, I find myself immersed in a crucial conversation - a dialogue addressing the intensifying impact of heat waves in South Asia at the World Conference on Humanitarian Studies, held on 6th November, 2023 in Bangladesh. The ‘Round Table on Heat Waves in South Asia: Dialogue Around Policy Options’ has become the canvas for this discourse, and I feel privileged to share insights into the urgent need for policy measures to combat this climatic menace. Organized by Vishal Pathak, Mihir Bhatt from AIDMI, and the ‘Heat Waves in South Asia’ Round Table emerges as a crucible for constructive conversations. This discussion, transcending geographical boundaries, aims to foster a deeper understanding of the multifaceted issues surrounding heat waves, examine their consequences on human health, agriculture, and ecosystems, and explore the policy options that can help South Asia adapt and thrive in the face of this escalating climatic threat.



Photo 1: Round Table on Heat Waves in South Asia: Dialogue Around Policy Options; Photo Credit: Author


The Global Warming: 6th Assessment Report by IPCC :The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2022) issues a call to arms, highlighting the exacerbation of heat waves due to global climate change. This spring, temperatures soared to nearly 60 degree Celsius across India and Pakistan, while Bangladesh and Sri Lanka found themselves under the oppressive weight of an unusual heat wave. The disconcerting reality is that this year's heat waves were 30 times more likely than a century ago—a stark consequence of the swift and radical shifts in our climate (World Bank, 2022).

 

Unveiling the Impact on Vulnerable Populations: Heat waves, extending beyond their meteorological definition, unleash an unduly adverse impact on our livelihoods, health, and overall quality of life—particularly affecting informal sector workers, notably of women.  In India, heatstroke accounted for a staggering 13.6 percent of total deaths due to natural causes between 2016 to 2020 (Standard, 2022).The strain on water resources, electricity, and transportation manifests as tangible problems like water shortages, blackouts, and power shortages.

 

Empowering Women as Change-Makers: Confronting these challenges demands a recognition of the vulnerability of pregnant, lactating women, women with disability and elderly. They bear a triple burden - productive, reproductive, and community work. As powerful change-makers, women wield influence over their communities and families. It is imperative to incorporate their decision-making power into all levels of heat risk mitigation to construct better-prepared, heat-resilient, and adaptive communities.

 

Confronting these challenges demands a recognition of the vulnerability of pregnant, lactating women, women with disability and elderly. They bear a triple burden - productive, reproductive, and community work.

Literature Review: Illuminating the Menace : My literature review delves into the severe threats heat waves pose to South Asia. Established public health concerns and the role of heat waves in weather-related mortality underscore the urgency for policy measures. The physiological impacts on the human body, from heat stress to organ failures (Tong et al., 2010)., emphasize the need for immediate action. Moreover, though many articles and writeups were found on the health impacts of heat waves (Alam et al., 2012; Burkart & Kinney, 2017), no such research was available linking gender and intersectionality. If we want to minimize these gaps, more research should be done in this sector and need more policy advocacy.


Photo 2: Prof. Mahbuba Nasreen with Colette Fearon, ELRHA, UK; Photo Credit: Author

Data-Driven Findings: Painting a Stark Reality : Analyzing meteorological data from the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, a recent study reveals alarming trends. The increasing number of heat waves, rising temperatures, and a lengthening summer affirm the urgency for effective policy measures (Shahrujjaman, 2023).

 

Recent Successful Interventions: A Glimmer of Hope : We highlight recent successful interventions and case studies that have the potential to be upscale. From cool roofs in Ahmedabad to Heat Action Plans in Indian cities, rural community-based adaptation in Nepal, and heat-resilient agricultural practices in Bangladesh, these initiatives showcase practical strategies for mitigating heat wave impacts.

 

Urban and Rural Responses: Adapting to Survive : A study on informal workers in Dhaka city sheds light on adaptation strategies. People are adopting both structural and non-structural measures, from staying indoors to using cooling devices. However, challenges persist, with a significant percentage experiencing heatstroke and a lack of awareness about protective measures (Shahrujjaman, 2023).

 

Navigating the Socio-Economic Impact: Delving deeper into the socio-economic impact of heat waves, it becomes evident that the repercussions extend far beyond health concerns. Informal sector workers, the backbone of many economies in the region, find their livelihoods jeopardized. The strain on water resources, electricity, and transportation exacerbates existing challenges, resulting in water shortages, blackouts, and power shortages.

 

The Role of Technology, Finance, and Political Economy: Moving beyond the immediate challenges, we must address the role of technology, finance, and political economy in our battle against heat waves. We must look forward to draw lessons recent technological interventions while mobilizing financial strategies to upscale successful initiatives.


The Crucial Questions: A Stove Roundtable: The roundtable encourages researchers, practitioners, and local actors to share their experiences and research related to humanitarian responses and approaches to heat waves. Key questions emerge—what are recent successful interventions and case studies with the potential to upscale? How are urban and rural affected communities responding to heat waves? And what lessons can be gleaned from technology, finance, and the evolving political economy?

 

Future Steps: Towards Sustainable Solutions: In charting our course forward, it is imperative to outline actionable recommendations. Policies should focus not only on awareness building but also on the implementation of heat health alerts and provision of emergency services during heat waves. The timely dissemination of early warnings can significantly reduce the damage of such events.

 

Policies should focus not only on awareness building but also on the implementation of heat health alerts and provision of emergency services during heat waves.

A Vision for South Asia: Beyond Survival to Thriving: The socio-economic and environmental impacts of heat waves underscore the need to incorporate heat wave-related aspects into policy implementations. Urban planning and management must play a crucial role in combating climate change and related health issues. The establishment of Heat Early Warning Systems (HEWS) becomes a necessity, especially in developing countries like South Asia.


A Call to Collaborative Action:

As we navigate South Asia through the scorching reality of heat waves, a collaborative, informed, and proactive approach is imperative. Together, we can safeguard the future of South Asia against the rising temperatures and impacts of climate change. The dialogue initiated in this roundtable, fuelled by research, practical interventions, and a shared vision, paves the way for sustainable solutions. Let us move with this opportunity to thrive in the face this climatic challenge.


References


Alam, N., Lindeboom, W., Begum, D., & Kim Streatfield, P. (2012). The association of weather and mortality in Bangladesh from 1983–2009. Global Health Action, 5(1), 19121. https://doi.org/10.3402/gha.v5i0.19121


Burkart, K., & Kinney, P. L. (2017). What drives cold-related excess mortality in a south Asian tropical monsoon climate–season vs. temperatures and diurnal temperature changes. International journal of biometeorology, 61, 1073-1080.


IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)].

Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, 3056 pp., doi:10.1017/9781009325844.


Shahrujjaman, S. M., (2023). Heat wave adaptation strategies among informal workers in urban setting: A study in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, University of Dhaka.

Standard, B. (2022, May 3). Heat stroke accounted for 13.6% of forces of nature deaths between 2016-20. https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/heat-stroke-accounted-for-13-6-of-forces-of-nature-deaths-between-2016-20-122050300962_1.html


Tong, S., Wang, X. Y., & Barnett, A. G. (2010). Assessment of Heat-Related Health Impacts in Brisbane, Australia: Comparison of Different Heatwave Definitions. PLoS ONE, 5(8), e12155. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0012155

World Bank., (2022). South Asia needs equitable cooling as heatwaves worsen. October 27, 2022.  https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/south-asia-needs-equitable-cooling-heatwaves-worsen

 



Professor Mahbuba Nasreen, PhD is the Regional Lead for GRRIPP-South Asia and the Professor and Co-Founder of the Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, University Dhaka.



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