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Heat Wave – Advisories During Summer

Temperatures are rising all over the globe. Heat wave is all around. People are mostly restricted within their houses as summer is at its peak. We hear news of the Government providing advisories to people to avoid the extreme heat and keep oneself safe. 

A Heat Wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season in the North-Western parts of India. Heat Waves typically occur between March and June, and in some rare cases even extend till July. The extreme temperatures and resultant atmospheric conditions adversely affect people living in these regions as they cause physiological stress, sometimes resulting in death.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has given the following criteria for Heat Waves:

  • Heat Wave need not be considered till maximum temperature of a station reaches atleast 40°C for Plains and atleast 30°C for Hilly regions
  • When normal maximum temperature of a station is less than or equal to 40°C Heat Wave Departure from normal is 5°C to 6°C Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 7°C or more
  • When normal maximum temperature of a station is more than 40°C Heat Wave Departure from normal is 4°C to 5°C Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 6°C or more
  • When actual maximum temperature remains 45°C or more irrespective of normal maximum temperature, heat waves should be declared. Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becomingly increasingly frequent globally due to climate change. 

India is also feeling the adverse impacts of extreme weather events and climate change in terms of increased instances of heat waves which are more intense in nature with each passing year. They have a devastating impact on human health thereby increasing the number of heat wave casualties. Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becomingly increasingly frequent globally due to climate change. 

State heat action plans have been developed. The initiative avoided 1,190 deaths a year, according to a study that evaluated the plan’s impact on death rates in Gujarat. The report also recommended that a state’s heat action plans should incorporate five core elements:

  • Community outreach to build awareness
  • Early warning systems to alert the public
  • Training of healthcare workers
  • Focusing on the vulnerable population such as farmers, construction workers, traffic police
  • Implementing adaptive measures such as providing drinking water, cooling centers, gardens, shade spaces during extreme heat days

The report stressed the need to build resilience at the city level in addition to state initiatives. City leaders have a clear mandate to protect residents and can employ local means of communication to reach the public. 

Municipal corporations can also design programmes that tailor programmes to their communities and provide early planning, coordination, capacity building, surveillance and other measures to deal with climate change.

Need for data

Extreme heat can be deadly. When temperatures go up, human, animal and plant health will not remain the same. Mr. Dileep Mavalankar from the Public Health Foundation of India and Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (IIPH-G) said during the virtual meet. This is because bodies have evolved to work at a particular temperature.

The risk of heatstroke goes up as temperatures touch 45°C, the expert said. The chance of survival is only 60 per cent, he added. But 90 per cent of heat strokes are indirect. They affect the elderly and people suffering from other diseases who stay home, according to Mavalankar. We are not able to record most of the indirect heat strokes because they not very easy to identify. They get misclassified as they happen three days after the heatwave. Europe, he said, provides a report on all-cause mortality, which captures heat-related deaths. Unfortunately, none of the cities is reporting all-cause daily mortality during the summer. Reporting this data can help experts see if the number of deaths is going up during or immediately after a heatwave.

Health Impacts of Heat Waves

The health impacts of Heat Waves typically involve dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke. The signs and symptoms are as follows: 

  • Heat Cramps: Ederna (swelling) and Syncope (Fainting) generally accompanied by fever below 39°C i.e.102°F. 
  • Heat Exhaustion: Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and sweating. 
  • Heat Stoke: Body temperatures of 40°C i.e. 104°F or more along with delirium, seizures or coma. This is a potential fatal condition

Recover and Build

If you think someone is suffering from the heat:

  • Move the person to a cool place under the shade
  • Give water or a rehydrating drink (if the person is still conscious)
  • Fan the person
  • Consult a doctor if symptoms get worse or are long lasting or the person is unconscious
  • Do not give alcohol, caffeine or aerated drink
  • Cool the person by putting a cool wet cloth on his/her face/body
  • Loosen clothes for better ventilation

Emergency Kit

  • Water bottle
  • Umbrella/ Hat or Cap / Head Cover
  • Hand Towel
  • Hand Fan
  • Electrolyte / Glucose / Oral Rehydration

To minimize its effects, take the following safety measures to prevent serious ailments and exhaustion:

  • As far as possible, avoid going out in the hot sun, especially during peak hours. 
  • Drink sufficient water at frequent intervals, even if not thirsty. 
  • Always carry drinking water while travelling. 
  • While going out in sun, wear light colored and loose clothes; use protective goggles; cover your head with a cap or carry an umbrella or towel and always wear shoes or chappals. 
  • Avoid strenuous activities in scorching sun, when the outside temperature is high. If you have to work outside, use damp cloth or an umbrella to cover your head. 
  • Eat light meals and fruits rich in water content like melons, cucumber and citrus fruits. Avoid foods that are high in protein, such as meat and nuts, which increase metabolic heat. 
  • Use home-made beverages like lemon water, butter milk and juices, etc. 
  • Never leave children and pets alone in parked vehicles. 
  • Keep animals in shade and give them sufficient water to drink. Keep your home cool, use curtains, shutters or sunshade etc. 
  • Open windows at night to maintain adequate ventilation. 
  • Listen to local weather forecasts and be aware of impending temperature changes. In case of illness and fainting, consult a doctor/seek immediate medical help. 

Also read – Alarming Rates Of Climate Change In The Past Decade

HEAT WAVE 

Heat stroke can be dangerous. Protect yourself with simple precautions Heat stroke can be dangerous. To minimize its effects, take the following safety measures to prevent serious ailments and exhaustion: 

What to do in Heat Stroke?

Safety Tips

  • Get the person indoors or into a cool/shady area, make him/her lie down with feet slightly elevated. 
  • Wipe the body with a wet cloth or spray cold water to the skin. 
  • Give the person ORS/lemon water/salt-sugar solution or juice to re-hydrate the body. 
  • Do not give anything to eat or drink to a person until he/she is fully conscious. 
  • Take the person to the nearest health centre if symptoms do not improve in one hour.
  • Aam panaa (green Mango syrup) is also good to prevent sun stroke.
  • Onions too have cooling effect. In case of high fever due to sun stroke, onion juice is applied on palm and feet to bring down body temperature.

Acclimatization

People at risk are those who have come from a cooler climate to a hot climate. You may have such a person(s) visiting your family during the heat wave season. They should not move about in open field for a period of one week till the body is acclimatized to heat and should drink plenty of water. Acclimatization is achieved by gradual exposure to the hot environment during heat wave.

Community efforts

In many town and cities in India, we see common citizens and their associations volunteer to supply clean drinking water to people passing through the roads and National Highways. This is an age-old practice. “Bhandaras” are common and organized at the road sides and various locations in the towns and cities in North India and various other Indian States. These are temporary set ups to provide free food and water to the people during peak summer months. People feel that it is a pious activity to provide water to the thirsty. Bhandaras are also organized in places of pilgrimage like Deoghar in Jharkhand, where the “Kanwars” (pilgrims) have food and water during their journey to the Shiva temple at Deoghar. 

Some of the city dwellers also install water containers in their balconies, terraces and other open spaces in their houses and gardens for birds and squirrels to come and drink water and sometimes, these are also used to have a quick dip/bathe. These individual and collective efforts need to be supported, encouraged and promoted further by one and all. 

Also read – Effects of Global Warming and Climate Change

Ravi S. Behera
Ravi S. Behera
Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, Aide et Action, Sightsavers, UNICEF, Agragamee, DAPTA and Practical Action. He has a keen interest in indigenous communities and food policy issues.
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