State apathy under fire
As the KC Chandrashekar led State government sanctions Rs 20 crore for its week-long Telangana Formation Day celebrations, his fellow constituents continue to suffer from the deadly heat wave. The death toll in the State has crossed the 500 mark for this year alone. Such gross apathy, one could argue, is part and parcel of Indian politics. The apathy, however, is compounded by the availability of simple solutions to mitigate heat wave-related deaths in the State. Experts have contended that there is nothing unusual about the prevalence of a heat wave in large swathes of India during the months between May and June. However, what is unusual is that this year more than 2,200 persons have lost their lives during the heat wave across India, the second highest recorded since 1998 when 2,541 people died. As per media reports, 98 percent of the deaths have been recorded in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which did not necessarily face the most intense heat wave this season.
Mind you, these are only official figures. The actual toll, some argue, could be a lot higher. Media reports have gone on to further suggest most of the deaths have taken place in urban areas and among workers of the informal sector, who have been exposed to hot and humid conditions without suitable drinking water facilities and shelter.
As stated earlier, the solutions required are present in front of the State authorities. For solutions, they only need to look towards the city of Ahmedabad where the city’s municipal corporation has taken concrete steps to prevent deaths and injury due to prolonged and potentially lethal heat exposure. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has put in place a comprehensive Heat Action Plan since 2013. Furthermore, Ahmedabad has the distinction of being the only city in India to have an operational heat alert system. The plan to tackle heat-related deaths was a collaborative effort of noted public institutions.
Surprisingly this plan’s underpinning revolves around raising public awareness around simple steps to take to prevent heat strokes. These include drinking water, buttermilk and any other hydrating liquid, besides staying out of the sun as much as possible. In Odisha, for example, school and office timings were advanced to reduce exposure to the heat, besides changing work schedules at construction sites. The State government has also opened water distribution booths across the State.
The National Disaster Management Authority has not yet come up with guidelines for the preventions of such deaths, which could be implemented by the States. Although it is a lapse on the NDMA’s part, certain State governments have shown that local and effective initiatives to mitigate heat wave-related deaths can be put in place. Public health education is often about doing the simple things right. The Centre and the State governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have shown profound inaction in this regard.