Schools have reopened to the relief of both parents and children. The children are now able to go back to school and play with their classmates. The spike in Covid cases, so far, hasn’t derailed this. There is one other concern that affects parents and children in different parts of the country: Extreme Heat.
Yesterday, I witnessed children crammed into school vans as they made their way home from school at 2 pm. Some children had their faces stuck to the windows while others were stuffed in. It’s a routine sight in Delhi.
But it’s also very likely that many children are physically and psychologically impacted by extreme heat during their difficult commute. It’s impossible to air-condition all schools in heatwave-prone regions. Schools can be built or retrofitted to provide thermal comfort for children and make their commutes more convenient. Also, summer vacations must be carefully planned and able to adapt to changing weather conditions.
One way to beat the heat at school is to have enough foliage. There should be native trees on campus and well-ventilated structures so that school hours are comfortable for all ages. These interventions could reduce the psychological stress associated with school in high temperatures. Many children who live in unlicensed colonies or shanties are dependent on school for heat relief. This is the issue that school authorities need to address.
The extended-range forecast has been issued by the India Meteorological Department, (IMD), for the two weeks of April 22 through April 28 and April 29 through May 5. The forecast shows above-normal temperatures for both weeks, particularly between April 29th to May 5 across the entire country, with the exception of parts of peninsular India.
M Rajeevan, the former secretary of ministry of earth sciences (MoES), sent out a tweet warning about Thursday’s storm.
Heat waves alert!
Extended Range Forecasts @Indiametdept suggest suppressed rainfall activity over most of country except Kerala & TN during next 4 weeks Consequently, temps expected to rise leading to heat waves over northern parts & east coast. @Indiametdept pic.twitter.com/PyDyii0u0J
— Madhavan Rajeevan (@rajeevan61) April 21, 2022
Are governments in heat-affected regions considering a summer vacation plan that includes a spike in maximum temperatures next weekend? Schools need to consider the effects of climate change on children and how schools can manage them. IMD experts warned that parts east India, including Odisha Jharkhand and Bihar will be severely affected by heat stress in the coming weeks. These regions also have high humidity levels which can make even a minor temperature increase difficult to manage.
These effects are already very real and urgently need to be considered. We cannot underestimate the mortality and morbidity caused by heatwaves. According to ministry of earth sciences’ response in the Rajya Sabha to a question on the number of casualties due to extreme weather events in India, there were 505 deaths in 2019 due to heatwaves out of 3,017 extreme weather casualties that year.
There were 501 deaths from heatwaves in 2016, 2,081 in 2015. And 1,433 in 2013. Experts say these numbers are still a gross underestimation heatwave mortality. It is difficult to track the rise in deaths from heat extremes because all cause mortality (death due to any cause) is not reported by districts in most states. The climate crisis is already increasing vector-borne and water-borne diseases, undernutrition, mental disorders and allergic diseases in Asia by increasing the hazards such as heatwaves, flooding and drought, and air pollution, in combination with higher exposure and vulnerability, according to the IPCC’s report titled Climate Change 2022: Vulnerability, Adaptation and ImpactsReleased March.
The report stated that all-cause mortality is on the rise in Asia, with high temperatures. Deaths related to circulatory and respiratory diseases, diabetes, infectious disease, and infant mortality are also on the rise.
Dilip Malvankar (director, Indian Institute of Public Health), Gujarat, explained to me during my reporting that extreme heat places an increased burden on the circulatory system. It must do more work to cool the body through sweating. This can lead to increased metabolism and dehydration. Dehydration and an increased metabolism can lead to increased complications of diabetes. Because children are unable to regulate their body temperature properly, infant mortality will rise. Their bodies can become overheated in heat waves.
Governments must be aware of the imminent 1.5 degree Celsius global warming breach as they plan for extreme heat season. Although the breach of this milestone may not immediately change our experience with extreme weather events, it does indicate that we must adapt to the severe climate crisis impacts now.
In its mitigation report, released earlier this month, the IPCC stated that the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 must peak by 2025 and then be reduced by 43% over the next ten years to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. It warned that policies that are not implemented by 2020 will only increase emissions and lead to an increase of 3.2 degrees Celsius in the century’s end. Between 2010-19, emissions were between 12% to 54% higher than in 2010, 1990, and 2010. These results show that global warming is already 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than it was at pre-industrial levels.
From the climate crisis to air pollution, from questions of the development-environment tradeoffs to India’s voice in international negotiations on the environment, HT’s Jayashree Nandi brings her deep domain knowledge in a weekly column
These views are my own.
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