Lancet urges response to heatwave exposure surge

Indian policy makers must take a series of initiatives to mitigate the increased risks to health, and the loss of labour hours due to a surge in exposure to heatwave events in the country over the 2012-2016 period, the Lancet Countdown 2018 report recommends.

From 2014-2017, the average length of heatwaves in India ranged from 3-4 days compared to the global average of 0.8-1.8 days, and Indians were exposed to almost 60 million heatwave exposure events in 2016, a jump of about 40 million from 2012, the report released Thursday showed.

Heatwaves are associated with increased rates of heat stress and heat stroke, worsening heart failure and acute kidney injury from dehydration. Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing morbidities are particularly vulnerable.

Almost 153 billion hours of labour were lost globally in 2017 due to heat, an increase of 62 billion hours from the year 2000.

Observing that a recent report “places India amongst the countries who most experience high social and economic costs from climate change”, the study makes several recommendations. These include identifying “heat hot-spots” through appropriate tracking of meteorological data and promoting “timely development and implementation of local Heat Action Plans with strategic inter-agency co-ordination, and a response which targets the most vulnerable groups.”

The report prepared jointly with the Public Health Foundation of India also urges a review of existing occupational health standards, labour laws and sectoral regulations for worker safety in relation to climatic conditions.

The India Meteorological Department had reported that from 1901 to 2007, there was an increase of more than 0.5°C in mean temperature, with considerable geographic variation, and climate forecasts by research groups project a 2.2-5.5°C rise in temperatures in northern, central and western India by the end of the 21st century.

The number of hours of labour lost also jumped between 2000-2017 across India, the Lancet said.

Farm labour vulnerable

For the agriculture sector alone, this rose to about 60,000 million hours in 2017, from about 40,000 million hours in 2000. Overall, across sectors India lost almost 75,000 million hours of labour in 2017, from about 43,000 million hours in 2000.

The agriculture sector was more vulnerable compared to the industrial and service sectors because workers there were more likely to be exposed to heat.

The findings are significant for India as agriculture makes up 18% of the country’s GDP and employs almost half the population. A recent World Bank report on South Asia’s hotspots predicted a 2.8% erosion of the country’s GDP by 2050, accompanied by a fall in living standards due to changes in temperature, rainfall and precipitation patterns.

If the average global temperature rose by more than one degree Celsius from the present, India could “annually” expect conditions like the 2015 heat wave that killed at least 2,000, according to the ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,’ commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), last month.

Next week, the Conference of Parties — a compact of about 190 countries signatory to the UN treaties to address global warming — is set to begin talks in Katowice, Poland, to iron out a ‘rule book’ to implement the Paris Agreement of 2015. The agreement was a landmark accord, in which countries agreed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by limiting the global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 12:53:01 PM |

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