Heat Wave and The Indian Cities

By Ranjit K. Sahu

There has been an unprecedented wave of heat across the globe starting from the western hemisphere to the east, affecting the countries that can be categorized as developed with modern amenities to poorer countries with burgeoning populations. While considerable debate still goes on over the reality of global warming due to green house gases, it is important to realize that irrespective of the cause, it is time to start taking measures to reduce or stop the disastrous effects of a heated atmosphere.  In the perception of the common man all problems of such magnitude are to be solved either by government agencies including the bureaucrats, politicians or by the more intellectual scientific community. However, the problems of this magnitude may have their solution in each individual doing his small part to partly alleviate the problem however negligible his effort might be. To draw an anecdotal reference to the little squirrel who tried to brush of sand from his fur to build the bridge to Lanka, no effort is little.

An additional problem is the opinion of rural folks that city dwellers are responsible for the mayhem of pollution that affects their livelihood and the belief of city dwellers that vanishing greenery over the villages is responsible for the ill effects. Ironically, the heat wave affects all parts of the country without any discrimination of rural or urban or rich and poor. While the rich having access to air conditioning still depend on electricity for utilizing their equipments, the poor use any means to cool themselves.  Neglected in this chaos is the fate of animals and birds that succumb to the heat wave; be it the little sparrow that is finding it increasingly difficult to survive in the ever expanding concrete jungles of the city of Delhi or the huge elephant that becomes a victim of sun stroke in the forests of Odisha. The situation is more or less like a sinking ship were the principle of each for his own is being applied without considering the means of trying to save the ship (earth/environment)  by each plugging a little hole.

The most important aspect of this is the absence of active participation of citizens in protecting their green cover or promoting planting of trees and even potted plants in the vicinity of their dwellings. While the real estate agents will try to grab whatever land they get under the pretext of development, it is for the common folks to raise objections when such green covers and water bodies vanish, especially in and around the cities. The government for its part can not only emphasize on replanting and forestation where trees are cut down for commercial purposes or for building infrastructures. Incidentally the building of high rises has one advantage of accommodating a large population in a small geographical area. This geographical area is in practice available on the roof tops of all such constructions. A proactive role to promote the culture of roof gardens along with rain water harvesting in cities may partly ameliorate this situation. Moreover the green covers can also be created on the vertical surfaces using creepers which are drought resistant as well as require less water. These concepts have to be ingrained in any development plan form the blue print stage and its execution must be strictly monitored and people not adhering to it must be penalized. For their parts, home owners can start with simpler measures like recycling water and using it for watering the plants. While the volumes from one apartment maybe miniscule, the water used for washing vegetables in the kitchen can be used for irrigation of plants in the societies. Similarly each person who has an open space can leave behind bowls of water in shaded areas for birds. The birds play an important role in dispersal of seeds as well as in the elimination of insect pests that make the environment livable. Similarly cooling the apartments just enough to make it livable instead of making it feel cool as a hill station will not only save the apartment dwellers a hefty bill but also decrease the amount of water used in coolers or chemicals in air conditioners. The water dripping from coolers can also be collected and reused fro watering plants. Many such small measures can be taken by people who can have a significant affect due to the large population involved.

The conscious effort of people and organizations is urgently required at this point of time. The climate change is nearly irreversible and until and unless adequate steps are taken to restore green covers starting at individual levels to the highest government levels, the effects will be felt for years. The situation will only worsen year after year. While these may seem like a doomsday prediction that will become irrelevant with the arrival of monsoon showers, it is important to not disregard the hotter and longer duration of summer across the country. With an aging population and health care and food problems looming large in the horizons, the common man can least afford to ignore the heat waves and not take steps.  Involvement of students in activities like planting trees and creation and maintenance of green covers is an important aspect of the strategy to build a generation of environmentally proactive citizens.  Let us not leave the younger generation a hotter world which will not be cooled using all their knowledge and creative thinking  in future by disregarding the small activities that each of us can do to mitigate the effects of a heat wave during summer.  We need to start to think of preventing the heat waves rather than looking for cures to its ill effects by consuming fruits juices and oral re-hydration solutions.

About The Author: Ranjit Sahu, was born in India and is a doctorate in biotechnology. He has published two books in poetry ( 2005: A Year of Love and Drunk ) and his poems have appeared in the website of Presently, he is working on several volumes of poems with different themes.

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