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Pakistan and managing the heat


July 23 2015

Following the rising temperature due to climate change that led to over 1,200 deaths in Karachi alone earlier this month, Commissioner of Karachi Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui on Wednesday convened a brainstorming meeting with government officials from various line departments, medical superintendents of all the leading city hospitals, representatives of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, National Disaster Management Authority, Provincial Disaster Management Authority, K-Electric, etc to come up with an urban heat management plan, something like the one designed and implemented by India’s Ahmedabad administration.

“Those deaths,” said Mr Siddiqui, “pointed clearly to a management issue.” The heatwave, he said, was a wakeup call and that an intergovernmental agency action, preparedness, and community outreach was needed. For that, he pointed out, the administration needed to anticipate, plan and respond to such climate-induced disasters.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, chief executive of Islamabad-based Leadership for Environment & Development Pakistan, showcased the Heat Health Action Plan (HHAP) designed by the Ahmedabad municipal government in 2013. As the Asia director for Climate and Development Knowledge Network that supported the Ahmedabad plan, he said he was managing the HHAP and had “developed valuable insights” that could be replicated at home.

In 2010, a massive heatwave killed 1,300 people after which the local government thought they needed a plan to stop that tragedy from recurring. It sought the help of national and international experts on early warning systems and heat adaptation.

“This year when 2,400 people died from the heatwave in India, only seven deaths were reported from Ahmedabad,” said Mr Shaikh.

The Ahmedabad plan aimed to build public awareness of the risk of heatwave. They came up with pamphlets, billboards and television and radio broadcasts, in Gujarati, Hindi and even English with simple messages on the symptoms to look out for and how to protect against extreme heat.

The early warning system and inter-agency coordination alerted the residents of predicted high temperatures. Formal communication channels sent alerts to health officials and hospitals, those providing emergency services, media outlets, etc.

Another step that was taken was to build the capacity of healthcare professionals. Simultaneously research institutions carried out mapping of daily temperature and daily deaths.

“Coming up with a plan that is suited to your city is no rocket science,” said Mr Shaikh. “But it needs someone to champion it and take ownership of it.”

However, the plan could only work optimally, he said, if there was complete and well-oiled coordination between and among the stakeholders and the responsibilities for each clearly marked. These include hospitals, various line departments, religious groups, schools, etc.

Some practical suggestions also came up during the meeting.

Dr Tasnim Ahsan, former head of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, said that during an emergency like the heatwave the administration could take over marriage halls or even schools in the communities, plug in generators so that the place had electricity and ask communities to come there to get cooled off and even get treatment for those suffering from heatstroke.

Roland D’Souza, representing Shehri-CBE, said that because demand for electricity rose with rise in temperatures, K-Electric which had developed the policy of providing uninterrupted power supply to areas which paid and carried out power outages in areas which did not, could perhaps set aside that policy for a few days during an emergency. And if electricity was in short supply, maybe those who paid could also be taken off the grid for a while to redistribute it to areas which had gone without power for long hours to give them succour.

Another suggestion was to make the 42 healthcare units in the city functional so that residents did not throng the five main city hospitals.

Because a large number of deaths took place in homes, in densely crowded localities, someone present said the building codes needed to be revisited and homes needed to be properly ventilated.

The important point Mr Shaikh made at the conclusion was that when people reached hospitals suffering from heatstroke or heat exhaustion, it meant the heat plan had failed. “The situation should not be allowed to reach that juncture in the first place,” he said.

Originally published by Dawn Pakistan 

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