A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity, especially in oceanic climate countries. While definitions vary,a heat wave is measured relative to the usual weather in the area and relative to normal temperatures for the season. Temperatures that people from a hotter climate consider normal can be termed a heat wave in a cooler area if they are outside the normal climate pattern for that area.
The term is applied both to routine weather variations and to extraordinary spells of heat which may occur only once a century. Severe heat waves have caused catastrophic crop failures, thousands of deaths from hyperthermia, and widespread power outages due to increased use of air conditioning. A heat wave is considered extreme weather, and a danger because heat and sunlight may overheat the human body.
The Odisha model of minimizing damage
After the heavy casualties in 1998, the Odisha government treats it as a disaster on the scale of cyclone or flood.By February-end, the government starts the preparation for fighting heat wave with a single objective in mind: no human casualty. Schools and colleges shift to early morning sessions. They open at 6.30am and end by 12 noon.Government offices also follow the same timings. Examinations are held by March. Public transport does not operate between 12 noon and 3.30pm. Public wage programmes like, MGNREGA is halted from 11.30am to 3.30pm.
A look at the heat wave deaths in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana would reveal that most of the people killed in the two states were labourers at construction sites who continued with their work even when the temperatures were at the peak.
There are other measures in place in Odisha to minimise heat wave impacts. Public health centres keep ice slabs ready to treat stroke patients. Panchayats across the state open water booths.
The state government also puts out continuous advertisements which guide people on how to combat heat wave. Hospitals in cities like Cuttack and Sambalpur deploy extra resources to attend to heat stroke patients. The ambulance network is activated and directed to be ready along the state and national highways. The government takes the help of the civil society in spreading awareness.
During April-June, the government’s state-level and district-level calamity centres continuously monitor the India Meteorological Department (IMD) temperature forecast and devise their strategies at local levels.
In Odisha, not all districts report high temperatures. But districts with high industrial activity report the maximum temperature rise. So, the district authorities devise their own action plans.
Heat wave is predictable and one can easily point out time band and places. We can’t stop it, but we can prepare well to reduce human casualties.