Heat stress is known to kill at worst, but reduce a person’s ability to work by exhaustion and heat strokes.
Heat stress will hit Indian cities very badly, very soon. It’s that impact of climate crisis where high temperatures throw everyday life out of whack. I’m particularly worried about our cities, because about 40% of our urban inhabitants live in slums, or poor quality housing. Their access to electricity is limited, their housing hard to cool, easily heated.
Many of their jobs require them to spend hours in the heat – street vendors, waste workers, construction workers and even, despite their better status, auto drivers. How will they – and their children – survive? Heat stress is known to kill at worst, but reduce a person’s ability to work by exhaustion and heat strokes. Koteshwar Rao, from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, and his colleagues project a 30-40% decline in productivity, particularly along India’s East Coast.
We’re hardly out of one environmental health catastrophe, let’s prevent another one. Participatory planning is foundational to adapt to heat stress. On one hand, ideas like ‘cool rooms’ are commonly discussed and on the other, greater tree and shrub plantation. Any city needs a mix of ideas across various sections. It also needs paradigm shifts like summer timings, when work starts and ends early, as they do in many warmer lands. Heat stress will require cooling, which is impossible without using more energy. Decentralised solar across urban India is one way to stop the grid from breaking down under too much demand. Whatever options Indian cities take up, it must be piloted in summer of 2021.
The writer is the founder and director of the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.