India heat wave: Experts urge more can be done as death toll rises

A number of Indian cities can do more to prevent deaths and illnesses experts said on Friday.

Until now, there have been at least 36 deaths as a result of this year's heat wave, where temperatures have exceeded 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

Indeed, a scarcity of water has led to fighting on the streets, with a number of stabbings, injuries and even deaths as a result of the hostilities.

Urban heat islands

Due to the hot weather, cities have turned into "urban heat islands" according to Sayantan Sarkar, who helped implement India's first Heat Action Plan (HAP) in Ahmedabad in 2013, citing a lack of tree cover causing temperatures to soar on paved surfaces.

Sarkar said: "Cities bear the brunt of a heat wave because they are so densely populated and because the effects are more pronounced."

Read more: India's 'water man' keeping liquids flowing despite crisis

However, a lack of resources is leading to additional problems. Sarkar added: "Not all cities have the capacity to implement the measures needed, and the lack of comprehensive medical records makes it harder to target vulnerable groups such as the homeless and migrant workers."

The West-Indian city of Ahmedabad executed its HAP after a heat wave in 2010 resulted in more than 1,300 fatalities.

Early warning systems via electronic displays and text messages were included in the 2013 plan. In addition, "cool roofs" were introduced that use reflective covers to keep temperatures low.

Hot nights pose added risk

Arup Kumar Srivastava, an expert at India's National Disaster Management Authority, said improvements were needed for the current heat wave hitting India. "This year, night-time temperatures have also remained high, which poses additional risks. So the plans need to be modified accordingly," he said.

A critical feature of HAP is monitoring India's poverty-stricken population.

Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) said: "Homeless persons are most vulnerable to the heat, as the majority live outdoors and do not have access to adequate shelter, drinking water and healthcare."

"The city has a winter plan for the homeless, which includes setting up temporary tents, but there is no similar effort in the summer - even though they suffer as much, if not more in the severe heat," she said.

jsi/jil (Reuters, AP)

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