With the climate crisis at our doorstep, extreme heat is likely to become an annual phenomenon. It is predicted that by 2050, 24 urban centres in India will breach average summertime high temperatures of at least 35°C, with devastating results for the economically weaker sections.

This will impact people’s health, mortality and labour productivity. Already we have official estimates that suggest 25,983 lives were lost between 1990 and 2020 due to heatwaves. The International Labour Organisation estimates working hours lost due to heat stress are likely to increase to 5.8 per cent of working hours by 2030, an equivalent of 34 million jobs.

Heat action plans

The Centre and State governments have been trying to address the issue by creating heat action plans (HAPs) that recommend post-heatwave responses and actions that government departments should undertake to decrease extreme heat impact. These would need to be constantly reviewed, given the ground situation.

In a first critical assessment of HAPs in India, the Centre for Policy Research has brought out a new report, ‘How is India Adapting to Heatwaves?: An assessment of heat action plans with insights for transformative climate action’. It examines 37 HAPs across 18 States to evaluate preparedness to deal with heatwaves.

Incorporating climate projections

So, what does the report recommend? It notes that most HAPs are not built for the local context and have an oversimplified view of the hazard and only ten out of 37 HAPs seemed to establish locally-defined temperature thresholds. It recommends nuancing and localising the heat hazard definition by incorporating climate projections. Climate projections could help identify future planning needs.

The report found that almost all the HAPs are poor at identifying and targeting vulnerable groups and only two of the 37 HAPs had carried out essential specific vulnerability assessments. HAPs were also found to be severely underfunded. Only 11 of 37 HAPs had discussed funding sources, of which eight asked implementing departments to self-allocate resources, indicating a serious funding constraint.

The HAPs had weak legal foundations. The report recommended more explicit linkages with the legal structure for disaster management and environmental governance.

The HAPs were found to be insufficiently transparent with very few listed online. It recommended creating a national repository of HAPs housed in the National Disaster Management Authority and conducting independent evaluations of their performance. More investment in capacity building across sectors by HAPs was seen as the need of the hour.