Met dept pulls out all stops to combat heat wave, Maha sizzles at 46°C

Changing school timings, compulsory availability of potable drinking water at railway stations and public places and shifting of hospital wards that houses women and children to lower floors are among some of the drastic steps which the India Meteorological Department, along with the National Disaster Management Authority, has suggested to state governments of 50-odd districts seen highly vulnerable to heatwaves and prolonged dry weather. 

The Red Cross and the Medical Council of India (MCI) have also decided to chip in by distributing oral rehydration packets and regular updates to weak patients to ensure that disease and deaths due to soaring temperatures are kept at the minimum level this summer season.

The highly vulnerable districts are in Vidarbha, Telangana, north interior Karnataka, Marathwada, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Rayalaseema. 

As many as 11 states have already developed their own heat action plan and are said to be implementing it; a national plan was missing. These places are part of what IMD termed the core heat wave zone, where its summer season forecast (issued last month) said the temperatures would be above normal. 

“We will start working from Monday onwards, when IMD would send its advisories to the Red Cross and Medical Council chapters across the country, for action by doctors and others. It will also start issuing impact-based forecasts,” said IMD director-general K J Ramesh.

Officials said temperatures would gradually start rising from April. By May, many parts of central, western and northern India could experience maximum temperatures over 42 degrees for most days. 

In 2016, among the hottest recorded years since 1901, the country averaged annual mean land surface temperature of 0.9 degree Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. The heatwave last year caused 1,111 deaths of people, beside those of wildlife, birds and poultry, as also in zoos. 

The IMD classifies a heatwave as when temperatures are 4.5-6.4 degrees above normal. For areas in the plains, a heatwave comes when the maximum temperature is consistently more than 40 degrees; in the hills, over 30 degrees; for coastal regions, more than 37 degrees.

“A temperature above 42 degrees is equivalent to having 102 degrees Fahrenheit fever, which is where the body’s resistance starts breaking, making human life most vulnerable,” Ramesh told this newspaper.  He said the aim of their action plan was make districts and state administrations battle-ready, the same way as for a cyclone or floods.

Its components include the setting up of drinking water kiosks in public places like roads and railway stations. And, getting people to not move out of their homes for non-essential work between 11 am and 4 pm, when temperatures are at a peak.

The Red Cross has been asked to activate all its chapters in the 29 states and the Union territories. A climate outlook forum in it will establish long-term sensitisation procedures for people against a heat waves, and the precautions.  The Red Cross will also distribute Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) packets and drinking water to affected people, give first aid, report daily and organise mobile medical camps forn open construction sites and the like.

MCI has 1,700-plus chapters and will use the daily, weekly and fortnightly heat wave forecasts of IMD to forewarn patients and others about possible fallout. And, build inventory of types of diseases that get aggravated due to hot weather and if any new symptom or health condition is noticed due to the heatwave.

“This exercise would help up in building a strong depository of heat-related diseases, their treatments and precautions, including any new condition which has developed in some region but could not get proper medical attention due to lack of coordination between agencies,” explained Ramesh. 

He said heat waves had always occurred in India but their intensity and severity has gone up in recent decades and years. Which was why the Centre and states had decided to pool resources and coordinate with all agencies.

Until 1990, India had experienced less than 500 heat waves. In 1991-2000, the number rose to 580. Between 2,000 and 2,010, around 670 such waves hit the country.

Keeping a cool head: 

  • Until 1990, India experienced less than 500 heatwaves. In 1991-2000, the number rose to 580; during 2000-2010, around 670 heatwaves hit the country
  • IMD forecast temperatures to remain above normal between March and May this year in most parts of the country
  • In May,  temperatures in many parts of central, western and northern India could be over 42 degrees for most days
  • The Medical Council of India will direct all its doctors across 1,700 chapters to get daily updates from IMD for giving correct treatment to vulnerable patients, mostly children and the old

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