Heat waves have become a new and alarming phenomenon for Bangladesh. We are increasingly experiencing hot humid temperatures for longer periods than anticipated. Although looking at the recent years, it is becoming more of a norm, we are not yet aware of potential ways to reduce the impact of this climactic change in our lives. It was just the other day, while reviewing the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)’s Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) Special Report 2023 I found an interesting case study on Heat Action Plan (HAP) of Ahmedabad, India. Ahmedabad initiated a HAP back in 2013 and it proved to be quite effective in reducing the sufferings of people due to extreme heat waves. This successful approach later replicated in 2023 in India’s most heat prone areas.
Why did the HAP work?
The HAP tailored to the local context and considered four characteristics: i) a graded Early Warning System (EWS), from mild to severe, ii) a public-awareness campaign on dangers and mitigating measures, iii) trained medical staff and facilities that are properly equipped and prepared and iv) systems and infrastructure to improve water distribution and roof-cooling programmes, to shade spaces and to expand public gardens.
The HAP initiated in Ahmedabad ensured the participation of the community, private sector and government agencies and tried to identify simple, realistic but effective steps to reduce the impact of heat waves. Identifying these measures through a collaborative manner meant that all the stakeholders are well aware about respective roles and responsibilities and try to execute them accordingly. Decentralizing and dividing labour worked.
Can we replicate it in Bangladesh?
In Bangladesh, we are also experiencing extended summers, starting already from the end of February and continuing up to last week of October. Even a few years back, the country did experience cooler monsoon seasons in between but in the last two years, it has gone down. Earlier, a World Bank’s Climate Afflictions Report of 2021 found that the average temperature rises in Bangladesh is broadly in line with the global average. The report further stated that Bangladesh regularly experiences some of the highest maximum temperatures in Asia, with an average monthly maximum of around 30°C (86°F) and an average April maximum of 33°C (91°F). The same report anticipated more hot and humid seasons, surpassing the Heat Index of 35°C [95°F].
While we may soon adjust to the new normal but finding adaptation techniques is more important than ever. The last eight years were the warmest years ever recorded, resulting in an increase in extreme weather events, including, heat waves, floods and drought. As of the current projection, due to El Nina, we are expected to have similar or hotter humid days for the next decade. During extreme heat waves, temperatures can reach levels inconsistent with life.
As we now have examples from India, it is possible to adapt some of the strategies with our context and circumstances. In reality, it is challenging to improvise the structural settings of Dhaka that HAP requires but concentrate on others areas of early warning, awareness raising and interactions between stakeholders to mitigate potential losses of warm heat temperatures. While a highly significant investment is not required, motivation and willingness are key to operationalizing actions like the HAP.
The GAR report stated that ‘while some losses will inevitably occur due to the extreme heat, it is misleading to assume that the impacts are inevitable. Adaptation to extreme heat can be effective at reducing mortality. Heat Action Plans that include early warning and early action, awareness raising and behaviour changing messaging, and supportive public services can reduce mortality, and India’s rollout of these has been remarkable, now covering 130 cities and towns.’
The reality is that we have to live with extreme hot humid days and proper adaptation is the key to survival. With adequate preparedness and planned investments, worst-case scenarios may be avoided. Bangladesh can proudly boast its cyclone and flood warning mechanisms, which are instrumental to reducing significant loss and damage for both human and the ecosystem. The Standing Orders on Disasters (SOD) for instance is a proven tool to act on disasters engaging multiple levels of stakeholders and the community. Time has come to improvise our indigenous way of thinking to adjust to the hot humid days and developing heat action plans with concrete messages and defined responsibilities could be a good start.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres aptly said in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report 2023, that ‘climate change is here and it is terrifying. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. The air is unbreathable. The heat is unbearable’. It is scary but true – we have already stepped into the era of ‘global boiling’ and must think consciously about ways to live with extreme situations with smart planning and actions.
Syed Matiul Ahsan is a climate expert, currently working at the Danish Embassy in Bangladesh as a Climate Change Adviser. Reach out to him at [email protected]