Heatwave as a Consequence of Global Warming: Challenges and Strategisation

Lt General Ravindra Pratap Sahi

Lieutenant General RP Sahi, AVSM is the Vice Chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Disaster Management Authority (UPSDMA). He also carries four decades of experience in Strategic and Operational Planning in the Army and has been at the helm of the largest Strike Corps of The Indian Army with more than one lakh troops under his command.

The heatwave conditions in the Country/State have aggravated due to changing climate with multiple stakeholders striving to adapt to its adversities. However, the fundamental challenge remains the sustainability of the adaptation mechanism. This is essentially true due to the fact that climate change continues to drive the temperature higher and thereby raising the intensity and frequency of heatwaves. There is also a gradual shift from seasonality and geographical confines of hazards including heatwaves. Though the adaptation may serve the purpose in short term, a comprehensive strategy dovetailing the aspects of climate change needs to be evolved for a sustainable solution.

Global and National Perspective

The heatwave has been labeled in many quarters as “Silent Killer”. If any cue mankind needs to take from the recent IPCC Report is the rising trend of global temperature and its indiscernible manifestation of various kinds. It has been predicted by many scholars on the subject that global warming is going to witness an increased frequency of extreme events including heatwaves, across the globe. The historical phenomenon of seasonality and the geographical extent of events are somewhat losing the sense, all due to global warming. We have witnessed the extreme heatwave conditions in the North-West American region in June 2021, with Lytton, British Columbia, Canada experiencing temperatures soaring to an unprecedented 49.6 deg C.  The Antarctica and the Arctic, this March, have shown departure from average annual temperature by plus 40 deg C and plus 30 deg C respectively. Why go that far, the State of Kerala in the year 2021 received 16% deficit rainfall from S-W monsoons and 110% excess from N-E monsoons. Lakhimpur Kheri, one of the Tarai regions of Uttar Pradesh, was subjected to severe flooding in the month of October 2021. As per IMD Report, the country has already attained the temperature in mid-March 2022 which is usually experienced by mid-April, an indication of early and severe summers.

State Dynamics to Heatwave

The State of Uttar Pradesh experiences heatwave conditions from late March to June, however, due to changing climatic conditions heatwave conditions do prevail from mid-March to even July. As per IMD Report, the State had the third-highest heatwave events after Andhra Pradesh and Odisha during the period 2005 to 2015. The effect is predominantly felt more severely in the Gangetic plains. Though the heatwaves begin in March, the Bundelkhand region experiences temperatures shooting up to 45 deg C by mid-May. The preceding year, the State experienced severe heatwave conditions with districts of Banda, Jhansi, Prayagraj, and Varanasi recording around 40 deg C in May end and beginning of June. In the year 2019 district Banda recorded 48.4 deg C in May end, with the all-time hottest temperature recorded in the district was 48.8 deg C in May 1994. Same period Prayagraj felt temperatures soaring to 48.6 deg C. Agra, Etawah, Aligarh, and Jalaun are the districts in West Uttar Pradesh that are subjected to severe heatwave conditions more frequently. In the Eastern part of the State, predominantly the districts of Gorakhpur, Basti, and Varanasi face moderate and at times severe heatwave conditions.

Areas of Concern: Systemic Challenges

Need for a Holistic Approach

It’s considered an absolute necessity to understand the anatomical impacts of heatwaves and also the indirect consequences such as the subjects of food and water scarcity, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, etc. No disaster can be approached in a compartmentalized manner and so is the case with the heatwave hazard. It’s a scientifically established fact that rising temperature does give rise to more intense and unseasonal flooding, more lightning strikes and eventual losses, avalanches and landslides, glacier bursting, and so on. Therefore, it’s of essence that heatwaves too be seen from the perspective of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) considering the Climate Change and socio-economics, in synergy with handling the direct impacts of a hazard.

Coherence in Strategic and Operational Planning

The plans emanating at the strategic level should be pragmatically linked to the operational/execution level to ensure their applicability.

Need to Accept Responsibility as a Challenge

Assigning responsibility is viewed negatively and this mindset needs to change. A culture of accepting responsibility and being accountable has to be inculcated as a challenge. There is thus, the need for clear roles and responsibilities in the management of heatwaves at all levels of implementation.

Health Inclusive Heatwave Planning

Heatwave has direct and indirect consequences on health, therefore, any heatwave action plan has to be inclusive of health hazards. Though enough data is available on temperature patterns, not much is on record to connect the same with heatwave-related health hazards including mortality.

Adaptation as Focus of Contemporary Strategy

India and the State of Uttar Pradesh has been adversely impacted by the rising temperatures. The State enormously depends on agriculture and the construction industry which are predominantly outdoor activities. It’s well understood that adaptation, as a mitigation strategy, is part of overall Disaster Risk Reduction. However, my personal take is that adaptation has limits and the question it raises is whether the State’s or the initiatives of UP SDMA towards adaptation would be able to match the severity of worsening heatwave conditions. The State Authority and the Government may imagine the future and redefine the working norms to the cooler part of the day’s cycle, essentially farming and construction, but we also need to visualize the declining benefits due to the atmosphere becoming warmer. Besides, this would also have telling effects on the biological clock of human beings. Adaptation to heatwave conditions in a compartmentalized approach would be like addressing the symptoms of disease rather than focusing on route cause. The approach to heatwave management has to address holistically encompassing the aspects of DRR.

Unplanned Urban and Semi-Urban Development

A substantial urban population of the State lives in slums under tin roofs which traps the heat and accentuates the cities or part of them into heat islands.

Need to Mobilize the Mental Inertia in Rural Areas

The philosophy to accept and react to the events, as they come, requires a fundamental change, and the rural community needs to prepare itself for approaching events. The IMD has made a phenomenal contribution in the field by issuing early warning bulletins (March to June) daily at 0800h for observed temperatures and heatwave warnings for the same day and again at 1600h with observed maximum/minimum temperature and relative humidity. However, there exists a need to develop an SOP to streamline simultaneous activities, at all stages, by stakeholders at various levels. It is the responsibility/challenge of the Government to break the mental shackles, more essentially of rural communities.

Lack of Data on Temperature and Mortality

The non-availability of the region or city-wise data on temperature and relative mortality hampers any realistic planning.

DDMAs yet to Mature

The environment is still not sensitive to the growing need for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and as a result DDMAs, though notified, have still not aligned to the shifting urgency. Heatwave, by and large, is also not viewed from the perspective of DRR, more importantly at the village and panchayat levels.

Initiatives Taken: State Government/up SDMA

It’s of paramount importance that every department having a stake in the heatwave hazard mobilizes resources at its disposal with no or least loss of time, once the alert has been received. The hazard of heatwave still being a seasonal phenomenon, the key departments would do better if certain activities are undertaken irrespective of the alert by IMD. The health, animal husbandry, Jal Shakti, police, labor, social welfare, Panchayati Raj, fire, agriculture, and irrigation departments need to spearhead the mission. Post the promulgation of the Disaster Management Act 2005, DDMAs have emerged as a very potent institution in managing the disasters, however, the institution is yet to realize the enormous scope of work it needs to initiate to meet the aspirations of the Nation/State. This anomaly needs to be addressed on a war footing, lest it gets subsumed into normal routine administrative functions and the paradigm shift in the field of Disaster Management remains a paradox only.

Uttar Pradesh Disaster Management Authority has formulated an action plan with the aim to prevent and manage the heatwaves in the State. This action plan addresses many functional aspects aligned with the dynamics of the State, which takes off from the need of defining the vulnerability of different regions of the State to heat waves. The generality of plans loses sincerity and commitment in the application and, therefore, the action plan attempts to identify various actions and also assign the same to concerned stakeholders/departments. Various actions and their synthesis would be a quintessential part of the strategy towards Disaster Risk Reduction. Keeping this in the forefront, awareness campaigns, early warning systems inter-agency Coordination, capacity building, and training programs, most importantly to identify various heatwave-related health issues and their treatment at the local level have been given greater emphasis. The need for developing and using NGOs as an effective instrument to combat the adversities of a heatwave can never be undermined. The institution of NGOs, to complement the efforts of the Government, essentially in the field of infrastructure development like bus stands, cool shelters, provision of water, provision of shelters for cattle, etc., need to be strengthened.

The respective DDMAs and the community itself can play a very important role in the coordination of various actions, supervision and even deployment of teams wherever required. A suggested flow chart towards heatwave management, highlighting the three-essential part of the heatwave plan: coordination of activities with DDMAs at the fulcrum, real-time or near the real-time trigger, and activation of Command and Control Centres including SEOC/DEOCs and commencement of simultaneous activities, is as given below.

Health Inclusive Heat Action Plan

Heatstroke is the most threatening health emergency situation in the State which occurs frequently, with Western Uttar Pradesh and the semi-arid region of Bundelkhand most severely affected. Elderly persons, children, farmers, outdoor workers such as rickshaw pullers, construction workers, street vendors, and people with chronic illnesses are at greater risk. Heat exhaustion is another serious health hazard of a heatwave, which happens when the intake of water or fluid is not enough to replace the liquid losses. Heat rashes, cramps, low blood pressure, and heat stress are other commonly happening heatwave-related health effects. The adverse health effects of heatwaves are preventable to quite a large extent which requires a synergized strategy parallelly running at all levels. This should be an all-encompassing Heat Health Action Plan, which includes early warning and the heatwave alerts by IMD, Action Plan at the village, block, district, and State level, infrastructural development, both in rural and urban areas and preparedness by the health department.

Flow Chart of General Minimum Heat Wave Action Plan by DDMAs

Health vulnerability

Heatwave revolves around many factors, more importantly, are the exposure of the community to temperatures, their adaptive capacity, and the sensitivity to which the community is impacted by the heatwave. One common denominator in the vulnerability index is the social and economic status of the community. NDMP-2019 also lays great emphasis on social inclusivity in plans.

Identification of Heat Islands

Every city needs to identify heat islands so as to ensure a focused approach. Unfortunately, this data in most cases is not available. This has to be done as part of a vulnerability assessment.

Region-based Planning

The dynamics of heatwaves in the State are different for different regions and, therefore, the plans need to be evolved for every region/city with differential response mechanisms. The region with greater immunity/better acclimatization will have low vulnerability and need to have different response mechanisms and so would be the case for cities that will have reduced exposure in view of better infrastructure and facilities. The IMD/Governments at the local level can establish a threshold level for heatwave alerts based on the conditions of regions. The Government will have to lay emphasis to run awareness programs, more so in rural areas, to establish the relationship between climatic variations and health problems.

Heatwave Plans for Animals

This aspect is either missing or not given the desired attention in our plans. Animal shelters, cooling arrangements, drinking water, diet, medical treatment, etc. should be pre-planned well before the season.

Capacity Building and Training

These are very important facets of managing heatwaves, more essentially for mitigation and DRR. Training of the medical community on various aspects of heatwave-related health hazards is the essence for which a training module should be formulated and run periodically. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and training on the identification of heatstroke cases and the process of patient stabilization before further evacuation should be imparted to the medical fraternity. Community training on various fundamentals and basic treatment in heatwave-related health problems is the key to efficient heatwave management.

Greater Research on Heatwave and Health Hazards There exists a plethora of data on climate change/temperatures/seasonal variability, however, not much is available on heatwave impacts on health. Data on heat morbidity requires better synthesis to arrive at heatwave-related casualties. The planners/officials need to have long duration data on the number of days in months/years with a temperature greater than 40 deg and connected heatstroke cases and mortality. Similarly, to understand vulnerability, we need to identify regions/cities which emerge as heat islands based on historical evidence. Plans thereafter can be evolved, both for immediate response and long-term mitigation activities.

Certain Imperatives by the Health and Family Welfare Department.

A sequence of activities with responsible stakeholders will be laid down beginning in early March with the provision of the audit. A block diagram of the same for the Health and Family Welfare Department is depicted below-

Short-Term Strategy

Awareness Drive

An all-out awareness drive needs to be launched in conjunction with the IMD forecast with a more rigorous focus on breaking the mental inertia of communities. The aspect of heatwaves as silent killers needs to be driven through.

Creation of Cool Room/Infrastructure

Both rural and semi-urban areas should have the provision of cool rooms, more importantly near the open workplaces like agriculture and construction sites.

Strengthening Role of Panchayati Raj

It’s of utmost salience that the institutions of Panchayat Raj and municipalities are empowered to play their role, both during the preparatory and heatwave periods. The results of all policies and strategies would only be seen if these institutions are incentivized enough.

Research/Data Generation on Long-Term Temperature and Mortality Matrix

There is a need to create a long-term data bank to establish a relationship between temperature and mortality for every city subjected to heat waves.

Heatwave Vulnerability Assessment And Action Plan

There is little doubt that every region of the State is impacted differently by heatwave conditions. This is essentially due to geographical variability of temperature, coping capacity of the community, and availability of protective infrastructure, among many others. Therefore, it’s imperative that every region/city draw their heatwave action plan. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and our approach is mostly responsive. Respective DDMAs can be supported to formulate their Vulnerability Assessment and Health Action Plan, both for rural and urban areas.

Flow Chart of General Minimum Heatwave Action Plan by Health and Family Welfare WAY AHEAD

Health and Medical Infrastructure

These need to be created with accessibility with minimum loss of time. The Location of PHCs and CHCs are based on the population density and connectivity in mind to put the institution for optimum use. The diagnostic infrastructure and availability of specialists, both in rural and semi-urban areas need to be improved. Medical treatment infrastructure for cattle needs to be planned in greater detail.

Mitigation Planning as a Long-Term Strategy

We tend to view the heatwave in a narrow compartment of an action plan, which is predominantly certain preparatory activities immediately before the heatwave season and then the response during heatwave conditions. As a result, the aspect of mitigation somewhat gets diluted. The heatwave conditions are a direct consequence of rising temperatures and climate change, therefore, it’s imperative that urban and rural local bodies draw out their long-term mitigation plans and also be trained to undertake such activities. Since the results are not readily visible, it would need efforts to commit the local bodies to long-term mitigation activities. Corporations/NGOs/Experts/village elders can play a significant role in this.

Mid-Term Strategy

Planned Urban and Semi-Urban Development

It’s of immense value to plan the development of cities keeping in view the heat resistivity. Open spatial considerations and green cover are essential to preclude the cities from developing in heat islands. Cool roof paints and heat reflector tiles are mandatorily made use of wherever possible.

Training and Capacity Building

Training and capacity building would be the key to mitigation strategy, more so for the medical and health fraternity.

Forestation and Water Management

Villages and blocks need to evolve their afforestation and plantation drive based on the mission/objectives of the Department of Forest and Environment and Climate Change. Similarly, rejuvenation of lost water bodies and the creation of new ones can be noticeable initiatives that will eventually enhance the green cover and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. There are best practices that have transformed the dry belts into green areas, both globally, National, and also at the State level which can be run as case studies.

Corporate House: Greater Role

We must look at tapping the corporate houses and also streamline the activities which can be executed under corporate social responsibilities, such as the provision of shelters, cool rooms, sheltered bus stops, and health-related supplies. There is a tradition of adopting villages and communities by corporate houses, police, and even local Defence establishments. These innovative ideas have tremendous potential and need to be evolved, structured, and put into practice.

Long-Term Strategy

Raising of Territorial Army Units

The State needs to also consider raising a few Territorial Army Units for ecological purposes and be given responsibility. This will not only be a humongous mitigation effort in balancing the State’s dwindling green cover but also contribute to the National project of NAMAMI GANGE. Besides, such an initiative will give a fillip to the local employment and address the socioeconomics of the region, a major indicator of Disaster Risk Reduction.


Heatwave management requires a comprehensive multi-sectoral strategy to deal with and mitigate the adverse impacts. Though it doesn’t leave even an iota of doubt that minimization of its effects on morbidity and mortality remains the top priority, the long-term approach to Disaster Risk Reduction cannot be lost sight of. It’s well understood that heat-related disorders can be avoided, however, the efforts need to be synergized, Do’s and Don’ts need to be not only drawn but taken to the last man who matters. All strategies can only fructify if pragmatically implemented at the grass root level and that in my opinion is the challenge for the planners and executioners.

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