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India’s Rising Heat Wave Crisis: The Challenge of Climate Resilience in Kolkata

Fatal Heat Waves Challenge India’s Climate Resilience Efforts

India, home to over 1.4 billion people, faces a grave challenge as it grapples with the increasing severity and frequency of heat waves that have claimed more than 24,000 lives since 1992. The nation’s struggle to bolster its resilience against such extreme temperatures is marred by inconsistent planning, insufficient funding, and a lack of timely actions, leaving many communities perilously exposed. Amid these adversities, the populous city of Kolkata emerges as a critical area of concern due to its susceptibility to both temperature and rainfall extremes, amplified by its hot, humid climate and geographical closeness to the Bay of Bengal.

As highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Kolkata stands as one of the global cities most vulnerable to climate-induced disasters. The city could face annual recurrences of heatwaves as intense as those seen in 2015 with just a 2-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures. The situation in Kolkata is compounded by the high humidity levels, which severely hamper the body’s natural cooling mechanisms.

Despite being among India’s largest urban conglomerates, Kolkata has yet to establish a formal strategy to combat the mounting threat of heatwaves. This lack of preparedness is apparent across India, with several regions experiencing up to 11 days of heatwaves in a month, a significant increase from the usual three days, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. Recent temperature recordings have soared as high as 47.2°C in some parts of the country, coinciding with national elections and reportedly influencing voter turnout.

In the midst of these challenging conditions, the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata becomes a sanctuary for many seeking relief from the heat. Last month, its waiting areas were crowded with people seeking shade under vibrant umbrellas and lining up at water dispensers. Despite the efforts to offer respite, medical professionals like Professor Niladri Sarkar of SSKM Hospital underscore the dire health risks associated with heatwaves, including heat stroke, skin rashes, and dehydration, which can be fatal if not promptly addressed.

The adversity disproportionately affects the city’s poorer populations, who often do not have access to essential amenities like clean drinking water and are employed in outdoor jobs. These working conditions expose them to the relentless heat, accentuating the risks they face daily. As a temporary measure, the state government advised some schools to close for an early summer vacation in an attempt to shield young students from the scorching heat.

To mitigate the effects of extreme temperatures, more than 100 heat action plans have been drafted by states, districts, and cities since 2013. Following guidelines established by the Centre eight years ago, there has been a push to adopt these policies widely. Moreover, a commitment was made at a meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority in January to enhance preparedness measures, underscoring the urgent need to protect vulnerable communities across India from the ravages of heatwaves.

In confronting these unprecedented climate challenges, India’s journey towards achieving resilience against heatwaves illustrates the critical need for comprehensive planning, adequate funding, and swift action. As temperatures continue to rise, the nation’s ability to safeguard its population, particularly those in high-risk cities like Kolkata, will be a testament to its commitment to addressing the escalating threats posed by climate change.

Ethan Wilder

Ethan Wilder is a conservation photographer and videographer whose lens captures the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world and the critical challenges it faces. With a focus on wilderness preservation and animal rights, Ethan's work is a poignant reminder of what is at stake. His photo essays and narratives delve into the heart of environmental issues, combining stunning visuals with compelling storytelling. Ethan offers a unique perspective on the role of art in activism, inviting readers to witness the planet's wonders and advocating for their protection.

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