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World Environment Day: Combating excess heat stress holds urgency for safe future

Porni Banerjee | ০৫ জুন ২০২৪ ১১ : ৪৮

Porni Banerjee
It’s raining fire in several states across India with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius. The extreme heatwave condition is turning many parts of the country, including Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh into a furnace, leaving people and animals sweltering under the brutal sun.

As India is recording abnormally-high temperatures of late, government data has revealed that nearly 25,000 suspected heat stroke-related cases were reported and 56 people died between March and May this year. And temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius, “will affect the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, young children, workers exerting outdoors, people with comorbidities, and the poor with minimal cooling interventions,” said, Professor Vidhya Venugopal, Country Director at the Sri Ram Institute of Higher Education & Research in Chennai.

As per the latest estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate crisis is expected to cause nearly 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, floods, droughts, and heat stress alone.

Causes responsible for bad climatic conditions
Today, on World Environment Day, a city-based senior journalist discussed about the drastic climate change in Kolkata and said on condition of anonymity, “At least 1,700 trees will be cut down near the city’s iconic monument Victoria Memorial in the near future for the expansion of metro services. With reduced number of trees, days are not far when the weather will turn hotter.”

“This devastating heat is not a natural disaster. The suffering India is facing this week is worse because of climate change, caused by burning coal, oil and gas and deforestation. What we are seeing in India is exactly what scientists said would happen if we didn’t stop heating the planet, stated Dr Friederike Otto of Imperial College London and director of World Weather Attribution.

Meanwhile, Susmita Dasgupta, an economist opined, “The composition of cement and the use of fly ash in cement not only emanate more heat, but may often emit more dust that raises temperatures in cities,” adding that “newly constructed buildings in the modern societies release more heat due to excess use of cement at least for the first ten years compared to the older ones.”

“If the trend of consistent rise of temperature continues, days are not far when we will experience warmer weather conditions, with mercury probably touching 60 degrees Celsius,” warned Dasgupta.

As we battle against intense heatwave, experts have recommended taking precautions against inclement weather condition. “To protect, avoid exposure to direct sunlight, use an umbrella and sun glasses. Keep the body hydrated with frequent intakes of water, fruit juice, coconut water, lemon drinks etc. Avoid going out in extreme heat conditions. Sunscreen lotions also help in protecting adverse effects on skin, said Dr Arun Sharma, Professor, Community Medicine.

Need of the hour
Shedding light on a very unique aspect, Dasgupta suggested, “Kolkata is the ‘only city in the whole world’ where state government has mandated that 20 percent of the land under construction of buildings to be kept vacant for planting local trees. This move – around 20 years old now - is in consistency with the protection of the environment.”

On June 1, 2024, a report was released by the World Health Organization (WHO), highlighting that health leaders and global experts came together for a Strategic Roundtable recently to hold talks on the adverse impacts of climate change and health. The brainstorming discussion was intended to shape the global health architecture to arrest climate crisis.

Putting emphasis on the solutions that may reverse the grim situation, Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, said in the meeting, “There can be no more excuses. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewable energy sources and protect nature and biodiversity. The climate crisis is a threat multiplier. It is time to hold those with power accountable for their promises and commitments.”

Meanwhile, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, also stated that human-induced climate change is increasing in “scale, frequency and intensity,” and added that “Climate action could save millions of lives each year and generate a return of over 4 US dollars for every dollar spent.”

As the story comes to an end, former professor Basabi Sur from Calcutta University, leaves us pondering over this thought-proving question, “As part of the civil society, aren’t we all responsible for turning Earth hotter with excess use of air conditioners and private vehicles for that ‘extra comfort’? All these are the driving factors behind greenhouse gas emissions.”

It is a high time we realise that planting at least one tree in our localities can protect the biodiversity from human hazards. Conserving water by ensuring that we keep the taps closed when not in use and taking shorter showers is also key. Moreover, availing eco-friendly vehicles instead of those that add to toxic air and noise pollution can also make a huge difference. Lastly, proper disposal of garbage in waste bins instead of dumping near to the seas, forests, neighbourhoods or elsewhere is also our basic responsibility. With collaborative efforts, we can restore Mother Earth.

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