A recent assessment by the World Meteorological Organisation has declared heat waves as the deadliest extreme weather event in the years 2015–2019, causing more than 8,900 deaths globally. Therefore, assessing geographic variability in heatwave vulnerability should become the basis for planning in India to tackle the brunt of heatwaves. Discuss the statement in the context of recent heatwave incidents often witnessed by the country. (15 Marks)

Mentor Comment:

  • The question is in the context of the heat waves in most parts of the country every year. 
  • The question expects us to first highlight that heatwaves have become quite frequent. Thereafter, we need to examine the adverse socio-economic and health impact of heatwaves and analyze how India should deal with the problem by mainly focusing on policy that involves geographical mapping of vulnerability.
  • Introduce by highlighting the condition of heatwaves in India in recent times.
  • In the main body, explain the condition of heatwaves faced by the country this year.
  • Discuss the causes and consequences.
  • Highlight what should be India’s response – Identification of heat spots, Review occupational health standard, regulate safety of workforce amid rising temperature. Etc.
  • Then move on to discussing that policy focus should mainly be upon Assessing geographic variability in heatwave vulnerability. (half of your answer should focus on this aspect)
  • Conclude with the significance of the right policy direction to tackle the menace.


According to Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Heatwaves are considered if the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C or more for Plains, 37°C or more for coastal stations and at least 30°C or more for Hilly regions.

Image result for heatwave in india

Recent Situations and the Geographical spread of Heat waves in India:

  • India’s central and north-western parts are headed for a hotter than normal summer season, according to the IMD.
  • The IMD declared that “The April to June season’s average maximum temperatures are likely to be warmer than normal by 0.5 degree Celsius over most of the meteorological subdivisions from central India and some subdivisions from north-west India.”
  • It said the maximum temperatures will be above normal by 0.5-1.0 degree Celsius in Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, west and east Uttar Pradesh, east Rajasthan, west and east Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Gujarat, Madhya Maharashtra, Vidarbha, Marathwada, coastal Karnataka, north-interior Karnataka, Rayalaseema and Telangana.
  • The heatwaves have already struck many parts of the country. They started with Tamil Nadu, Rayalaseema, coastal Andhra Pradesh in early March.
  • In late March, an unusual heatwave affected Kerala, taking weather forecasters by surprise. It has killed four people till date and almost 300 people have suffered from sunburns, according to media reports.

Image result for heatwave in india upsc

Causes for the heatwaves:

  • Magnified effect of paved and concrete surfaces in urban areas and a lack of tree cover.
  • Urban heat island effects can make ambient temperatures feel 3 to 4 degrees more than what they are.
  • More heatwaves were expected as globally temperatures had risen by an average 0.8 degrees in the past 100 years. Night-time temperatures are rising too.
  • Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent globally due to climate change.
  • High intensity of UV rays in the medium-high heatwave zone.
  • Combination of exceptional heat stress and a predominantly rural population makes India vulnerable to heatwaves.



  • Heatwaves are associated with increased rates of heat stress and heat stroke, worsening heart failure and acute kidney injury from dehydration.
  • Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing morbidities are particularly vulnerable.
  • Promote the spread of diseases like cholera and dengue fever across endemic areas.
  • Increased poverty due to failure of crops and reduced economic activities.


  • India lost nearly 75 billion hours of labour in 2017 as a result of rising temperatures.
  • This made sustained work increasingly difficult and negatively affecting workers’ output.
  • The agriculture sector experienced the largest increase in labour loss.
  • Almost 153 billion hours of labour were lost globally in 2017 due to heat, an increase of 62 billion hours from the year 2000.
  • Agriculture sector was more vulnerable compared to the industrial and service sectors because workers there were more likely to be exposed to heat.
  • Since 1990, every region of the globe has become steadily more vulnerable to extreme increases in heat.

State actions towards Heat waves assessing their geographic variations:

  • Key element of many states response strategy has been enhancing health risk communications on the impact of heatwaves and how citizens can take simple steps to reduce their exposure and protect their health.
  • Andhra Pradesh:
    • Andhra Pradesh has strong inter-agency coordination across multiple departments
    • Andhra Pradesh has also set up 1168 stations approximately one for every hundred square kilometres for weather forecasting and modelling.
    • It has developed a mobile app to disseminate information about heatwaves and advice on precautionary steps; the app is available in English and Telugu.
  • Telangana:
    • Telangana developed one of the first state-wide heat action plans in 2016.
    • The state is now integrating the heat action plan with its action plan on climate change.
    • The Telangana plan focuses on training district officials and health staff
  • Odisha:
    • It has declared heat waves as a state-specific disaster.
    • It is developing local thresholds and analyzing the vulnerability of communities in different parts of the state.
    • Odisha’s activities focus on awareness-raising, capacity building and training of healthcare staff, interagency coordination, and enabling provision of water for vulnerable communities.
  • Various states and municipalities have introduced early warning systems, public awareness campaigns and increased training for medical professionals.
  • Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Odisha have made pioneering efforts with respect to heat-health warning systems (HHWS).
  • Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has adopted a heat action plan which necessitates measures such as building heat shelters, ensuring availability of water and removing neonatal ICU from the top floor of hospitals.
  • Such warning systems include providing weather forecasts in advance, issuing warnings to people, providing readiness of emergency response systems, and preparing doctors and health facilities to handle a sudden influx of patients. Warnings facilitate people in taking appropriate actions against heat-related harm.
  • Access to cool environments remains the mainstay of preventing heat stress:
    • In rural areas, where electricity access is a challenge, supplementing power supply of primary health centres with solar-based systems should be undertaken. Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Tripura have already deployed such systems.

Way forward:

  • In 2016, the National Disaster Management Agency prepared guidelines for state governments to formulate action plans for the prevention and management of heatwaves, outlining four key strategies:
    • Forecasting heatwaves and enabling an early warning system
    • Building capacity of healthcare professionals to deal with heat wave-related emergencies
    • Community outreach through various media
    • Inter-agency cooperation as well as engagement with other civil society organizations in the region.
  • Advance implementation of local Heat Action Plans, plus effective inter-agency coordination is a vital response which the government can deploy in order to protect vulnerable groups.
  • This will require identification of “heat hot spots”, analysis of meteorological data and allocation of resources to crisis-prone areas.
  • The India Cooling Action Plan must emphasize the urgency and need for better planning, zoning and building regulations to prevent Urban Heat Islands.
  • Provision of public messaging (radio, TV), mobile phone-based text messages, automated phone calls and alerts.
  • Promotion of traditional adaptation practices, such as staying indoors and wearing comfortable clothes.
  • Popularisation of simple design features such as shaded windows, underground water storage tanks and insulating housing materials.


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Udit Kumar
Udit Kumar
2 years ago