At least 30 deaths due to sunstroke have been reported from across Odisha as temperatures crossed 43 degree Celsius in many parts of the state. The state disaster management authority is, however, still ascertaining how many of these deaths are due to heat and how many from other causes.

The met department has forecast that maximum day temperatures are likely to be above normal with heat wave conditions in Odisha and the eastern region for the coming week till April 21st.

Odisha is no stranger to severe heat. The state saw its largest number of casualties in the summer of 1998 when 2,000 people died from dehydration and heat strokes. More than 140 people died in the summer of 2003 and 67 people succumbed to intense heat in 2015. Odisha is trying to bring its heat casualties down to zero now by implementing a heat action plan along the lines of the one in effect in Ahmedabad.

Heat action plan

The plan strengthens people’s heat preparedness by issuing early heat warnings that are being sent out as part of the statewide disaster management system. The government has also issued alerts for people to stay indoors during the hottest part of the days between 11.30 am and 3:30 pm, for non-AC public transport to stop plying during these hours and for schools to be closed on days when a heat wave is forecast.

“We are now making some more modifications to the plan, like painting roofs white for albedo and so on, that has to be approved by the state government,” said Kamal Lochan Mishra, the chief general manager of the state disaster management authority. “But other things like drinking water distribution and cooling rooms in hospitals are already being done.”

So what happens to the body under intense heat? Prolonged exposure to high temperatures causes the body to lose a lot of water as sweat and through respiration, through the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. This in turn leads to head stress, dehydration and an inability of the body to adjust to physical activity. Intense heat conditions can also trigger an increase in eye and skin diseases.

More heat waves coming?

Heat action plans like the ones being implemented in Odisha, and also in Nagpur and Ahmedabad, are essential in large parts of India where a large proportion of the population is vulnerable without access to water, electricity and primary healthcare. It’s even more important with the possibility of heat waves getting much worse in coming years.

Scientists tracking heat waves have noticed an increasing trend in both the number of heat waves and the number of severe heat wave days in a season, especially in the years between 2001 and 2010, which was the warmest decade compared to four preceding ones.

Areas that recorded one or two heat waves in the period between the 1950s and 1980s, registered between three and five heat waves in the three decades since 1980.

Forward-looking studies have shown that under climate change scenarios where global temperatures rise to above 2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels, heat waves in southern India and both the coasts are set to become very intense after the year 2070. The study said that heat waves in that period may start in early April, in which case 2016 may be just a preview for conditions in the later half of the century.