It is getting hot in Asia. Last year the temperature hit over 128 degrees F in Pakistan, a new record. Arriving in Ahmedabad to learn from and assist local experts in incorporating heat into the city’s disaster planning, I can quickly see how climate change will exacerbate underlying problems. A city of 5.5 million in the state of Gujarat, Ahmedabad is the fastest growing city in India (and the third fastest in the world). The populace here already suffers from chlolera and hepatitis, as well as infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, and chakungunya. All are expected to get worse under increasing temperatures, unless heightened control measures can be implemented.
Ahmedabad's early summer temperatures are already getting near 100 degrees F, and a drastic increase in heat wave days is expected. Not only will increased heat lead to more heat deaths and hospitalizations, it will also have dire effects on livestock, and on agriculture--leading to an increase in malnutrition, especially among children. Multiplying greenhouse gas emissions are driving all of this change, an issue our country continues to ignore as a global environmental and health crisis.
The meeting in Ahmedabad, sponsored by NRDC and Indian health organizations, starts with Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, speaking of the “careless consumption” and “corporate irresponsibility” driving climate change, which will have the greatest effect among the least powerful among us. Indeed, health officials have already identified women, children, workers, and the elderly as some of the populations most likely to suffer the most from climate change. Throughout India, we are told, increasing dry spells will worsen the country’s water crisis; already in Ahmedabad some sectors of the city only have water service for 30 minutes a day.
The meeting ends with some excellent strategies and a show of promise. The local officials are eager to initiate work on better identifying vulnerable populations, and working on adaptive policies that encourage shade tree planting, better water supply, population heat awareness, and health surveillance. The city itself is a leader in India on addressing climate change: Most of the buses and auto-rickshaws have been converted to natural gas, dramatically reducing pollution levels. In the state of Gujarat, all first-year college students are required to take a course on the threats that climate change pose for their country.
Throughout India, there are hopeful signs of awareness: As our auto-rickshaw in Jaipur, Rajasthan, jockeys for position with bicycles, taxis, camels, and cows, I glance out of the corner of my eye at a sign entreating people to attend a rally against climate change. The national paper highlights the news that Bollywood star Vidya Balan is encouraging Indians to participate in Earth Hour.
Everywhere, the earth is changing. India is becoming more aware. We must meet this challenge in the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and do our part to stop the humanitarian crisis of climate change.