BMJ 2015;350:h3047 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h3047 (Published 4 June 2015)
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NEWS More could be done to protect people from heatwave in India, say campaigners Sanjeet Bagcchi Kolkata
Organisations and activists in India have urged the government to take firm action to protect people from the heatwave currently sweeping the country, which has claimed the lives of more than 2500 people since mid-April. Doctors, health assistants, and social workers have taken to the streets, giving out rehydration materials and advising people to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, when temperatures have soared to around 45°C in some places. The heatwave is the fourth most deadly heatwave reported since 1998; the deadliest heatwave occurred in 2010 in Russia, killing 55 736 people. In Andhra Pradesh, one of the worst affected states, with two thirds of the total deaths, the state government is providing compensation of Rs10 000 (£100; €140; $160) for each death after proper verification.
Nidhi Bhardwaj, a representative from CARE India, a non-governmental organisation that fights poverty and social injustice, told The BMJ that poor and excluded people suffer the most in heatwaves. Labourers, factory workers, homeless people, and elderly people are most at risk from high temperatures, she said. “One of the interventions the government could do is to regulate construction work (buildings, bridges, etc) during the peak times of the day,” she added.
Amulya Nidhi, co-convener of Swasthya Adhikar Manch (Health Right Forum), a non-governmental organisation based in Indore and Pune, told The BMJ that around 23 million people in India were homeless and living on the streets with no access to shelter from the heat or drinking water.
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He said that the government should immediately reopen the temporary shelter homes for homeless people (which are open only in winter), construct more temporary shelter homes using concrete structures instead of tin for roofs, and provide safe drinking water. “A task force should be formed of doctors, civil society organisations, etc, which can trace homeless people across cities and provide them with emergency relief during summer,” he said. For rural people who come to urban areas during summer for work, the government should prepare “temporary sheds near working sites [and] provide safe drinking water,” Nidhi said. He added, “On a long term basis, the issue of the homeless population has to be solved by an inclusive housing policy. Public health services have to [be strengthened] in order to respond to the needs of people. Labour laws should be strengthened [to protect the] interests of labourers.”
However, Bhardwaj said, “The government has taken many steps in advising people not to venture out in hot sun, mustering medical professionals for first aid and referrals, and the provision of water points.” In future the government could also inform the public ahead of a heatwave about what they should be doing to protect themselves, she added. Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3047 © BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2015