Climate and health experts from throughout South Asia will gather at a UN sponsored forum in a bid to improve the management of health risks from heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent and more intense as a result of climate change.
In 2015 many countries in South Asia suffered the traumatic and devastating effects of heatwaves, which took thousands of lives and severely stressed health systems. Parts of India are again gripped by intense heat, compounded by severe water stress due to two consecutive years of deficient monsoon (2014 and 2015). The India Meteorological Department has warned of a “high probability of moderate and severe heatwave conditions” during April to June.
Over the past 50 years, hot days, hot nights and heatwaves have become more frequent. The length, frequency and intensity of heatwaves will likely increase during this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In addition to the health impact, heatwaves also place an increased strain on infrastructure such as power, water and transport.
In response, the first Climate Services Forum for Health is being held from 26-28 April in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It brings health and meteorological partners from across the South Asia.
It is hosted by Sri Lanka’s Department of Meteorology and sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and World Health Organization, which together have a joint Office on Climate and Health. It takes place following the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF), which is due to issue the outlook for the forthcoming monsoon season.
“The use of weather and climate information in decision-making saves money and lives by helping health systems to prepare for extreme weather events such as heatwaves,” said Joy Shumake-Guillemot, of the joint WMO-WHO Office on Climate and Health, which is providing the technical coordination for the Forum.
“We hope to promote more widespread heat-health early warning systems and action plans which allows professionals and the public to better understand and monitor risks, and to reduce the very real health risks from heatwaves,” she said.
The Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) is a key partner in the organization of this Forum, and will be showcasing their successful experience with Heat-Health Action Plans in major cities of India, in collaboration with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Natural Resources Defense Council.
The India Meteorological Department, for the first time, issued a seasonal outlook for temperatures during the hot weather season (April to June). It forecast above-normal temperatures in all sub-divisions, with many of them expected to see temperatures more than 1°C above normal and with a high probability of moderate and severe heatwave conditions.
“The new heatwave forecasts and warnings are an important addition to the traditional monsoon forecasts and provide a valuable service to society,” said IMD Director Laxman Singh Rathore “For the first time, health authorities and emergency planners will have actionable advance information to manage the risks of extreme heat.”
Sri Lanka, which is hosting the Forum, has also started issuing heat advisories.
“Since January this year, Sri Lanka is experiencing extremely hot conditions with day temperatures 2-3 degrees above normal on most days and this has prompted the Meteorological Department to issue warnings and advisories on high temperatures this year for the first time in the history,” said Lalith Chandrapala, Director-General of Meteorology, Department of Meteorology.
The South Asia Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF) brings together the meteorological authorities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives to create a consensus-based seasonal forecast for the region, synthesizing a wide range of forecasts available for the region. This forum is convened twice a year for the summer and winter monsoons, creating an excellent opportunity for climate-sensitive sectors, such as health, to meet with experts and discuss local climate conditions, and learn how to use available weather and climate forecasts.
The Climate Services Forum for Health meeting aims to review current experiences and capacities in order to develop more health-friendly heat forecasts and encourage the development of heat-health action plans. In particular, it will draw upon city-scale heat action plans in India and encourage these to promoted elsewhere. This Forum is supported by WMO through a Programme of Implementing the Global Framework for Climate Services on Regional and National Scales, funded by the Government of Canada.
Broadly, the Forum aims to:
- Facilitate greater interaction between climate and health sectors at the national and regional level
- Provide an overview of Climate Risks to Health in South Asia
- Identify climate and weather knowledge and decision needs to manage extreme heat events
- Inform the development of health tailored climate applications, and
- Establish a network of partners and projects to reduce the impact of extreme heat in South Asia.
- Issue a heat-health outlook statement for South Asia for the coming few weeks, based on the available forecast information
These new partnerships of health and climate actors will serve as the basis for future action on other challenges such as air pollution and water borne diseases.
WHO and WMO have established a close working relationship to respond to the health risks of extreme weather events, and the growing threat presented by climate change. The joint office serves to improve the use of climate information to protect health, and to ensure that forecasts of heatwaves, floods, tropical cyclones and other extreme events are connected to public health responses.
WMO and WHO last year issued a publication called Heatwaves and Health: Guidance on Warning-System Development to inform the widespread development and implementation of warning systems, which have proved highly effective in reducing negative effects in a number of countries, especially in Europe and North America.