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Heat-related deaths will double in urban India by 2080: IIM

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Heat-related mortalities will witness a two-fold increase in urban areas of India by 2080, a study done by the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) predicts.

The IIM study titled as ‘Predicted increase in heat- related mortality under climate change in urban India’ also asked the Indian policy-makers to plan and respond to the challenge of climate change in the country, which recorded more than 2000 deaths in summer this year.

“Urban areas in India are projected to witness two-fold or more increase in heat-related mortality under the projected future climate,” the study conducted by IIM-A researcher Amit Garg, Vimal Mishra of Indian Institute of Gandhinagar and a member of Delhi-based NGO Council for Energy, Environment and Water, Hem Dholakia said.

The study, which is based on data collected from 52 Urban centres, said the mortality is projected to increase 71 to 140 per cent in the late 21st century.

“We find that increase in heat-related mortality will overshadow decline in the cold-related mortality (winter season). Moreover, urban areas of Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata are projected to experience the highest absolute increase in heat-related mortality in 2080s,” it said.

“India and other developing countries are at higher risk due to high population and low preparedness. Mortality associated with recent heat waves in Indian cities such as Ahmedabad and Delhi highlight the current vulnerability that is likely to increase in the future,” said the study.

“However, studies that assess future temperature related health impacts are largely absent in India. This is important given that temperatures may increase by 3.3 degree Centigrade to 4.8 degree Centigrade by 2080s relative to pre-industrial times under changing climate,” it said.

“This is the first attempt to show that the urban India is projected to experience high mortality from the future warming. Our findings underscore the need for Indian policy makers to anticipate, plan and respond to the challenge of climate change,” it said.

“Across the different zones studied, we find that maximum percentage increase in the heat-related mortality is expected in the cold zone and hot and dry zone. This may be because people in the colder areas may not acclimatise to warmer temperatures,” it said.

“Similarly, increased temperatures in the zones that are hot and dry may enhance population susceptibility given that physiological limits of human temperature tolerance may be breached,” it said.

The real mortality impact of the projected climate in urban areas in India is likely to be significantly higher than that analyzed in this study, it added. The 52 urban areas represent about 13 per cent (157 million people) of the Indian population.

The remaining population that resides in smaller towns, cities, and rural areas, which are also vulnerable to mortality impacts of climate change, it causes.

The study warns the towns and smaller cities of today will burgeon into urban areas with million plus populations in the future as a consequence of urbanisation, which may lay an impact on health of the people. It said the developing countries are more vulnerable as impacts may not only be higher in absolute terms, but also because, they lack resources to mount a coherent adaptation response.

The study stress for greater emphasis on public health and policy coordination across sectors. Health system strengthening is needed in urban India to address current and future climate change related health challenges, it said.