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Observing Heat Waves Differently



At the turn of the summer, HOISA’s inaugural brought together different actors to collectively observe and discuss Heat Waves in South Asia. HOISA is the Humanitarian Observatory in South Asia and is a joint initiative of the All-India Mitigation Institute (AIDMI), the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam and the International Humanitarian Studies Association. The discussion on heat waves was held at its launching event.


The panel included Dorothea Hilhorst - ISS, Prabodh Chakrabarti - Swami Vivekananda Chair Professor on Environment and Disaster Management, RKMVERI, Kolkata, Keya Saha Chaudhary - Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific at ICVA, Nimesh Dhungana - Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI), The University of Manchester UK, Delu Lusambya - PhD researcher at the ISS, Mihir Bhatt - (AIDMI) India, and Khayal Trivedi – HOISA Project lead.


It was observed that Heatwaves are a global phenomenon and cannot be looked at in isolation from the other. And while it may be interconnected to a lot of other processes, heat waves can also have a very distinct impact and characteristics depending on the geographical region it occurs. Mr Prabodh Chakrabarti and Nimesh Dhungana, both highlighted this point and elaborated on how the density of the population, the infrastructure, and geographical features such as altitudes affect and sometimes aggravate the effects of a heat wave. Mr Chakrabarti highlighted the findings of recent research on ‘wet-bulb temperature’ in South Asia that parts of the region are much closer to the threshold limits of human survivability than the African and Gulf regions. The depth and range of vulnerability and exposures of the population and economy of the region to the heat wave are also much more intense and complex. Mr Chakrabarti pleaded that the humanitarian approach to heat waves in South Asia needs to be revisited in the context of these challenges. Similar observations on heat waves were shared by researcher Delu Lusambya from his experience working in Congo. Such transregional observations provide a holistic understanding of the events occurring in different contexts.


Several recent studies have shown and predicted an increase in the frequency of heat waves in the subcontinent. In wake of this, and the distinct manners in which it affects about 1.8 billion people in the region, Heatwaves must be made a global political agenda. Mihir Bhatt noted how authorities, UN, academics, and activists, together must aim to draw a global heatwave compact across all stakeholders beyond the current climate policy community.

Being a phenomenon that goes beyond borders, a joint plan of action between countries in South Asia must be formalised. As Dorothea highlighted, such humanitarian actions must be taken simultaneously in a cohesive manner for a positive impact – which is in fact the agenda of the several humanitarian observatories forming across the globe, thereby calling for a global movement.


But such a joint effort and action across South Asia requires the baseline of the state of South Asia’s heat waves. Unfortunately, increasing distance between science and society, evidence and knowledge and data and tools on heat waves in South Asia has also been observed lately according to Mihir Bhatt. “We must encourage and strengthen scientific (such as solar geoengineering), cultural, and social sciences studies, knowledge and evidence coherence, promote interdisciplinary exchange, and transfer of technology, tools, data, and key concepts.” Within this range unlocking heatwave and related data—private and public—is one of the first steps.


Keya Saha-Chaudhary particularly emphasized how funding across the humanitarian sector is not sufficient to meet the growing needs, and thus more holistic and less siloed approaches are needed to address the impacts of climate change. In the case of heatwaves, this means funding approaches that consider both the immediate and long-term consequences to ensure better resilience of communities. Therefore, increased investment and integrated funding of heatwave management strategies and plans in South Asia are required to ensure appropriate prevention and response. Within this attention should be given to the meaningful involvement of communities and local and indigenous solutions to addressing heatwaves.


Observations indicate that sectors and levels of interactions in South Asia are complex and contradictory. Therefore, we must accelerate the implementation of heatwave action plans at all levels and key development sectors starting from employment, health, and education. Nimesh Dhungana also highlights how a lot of our infrastructure is not capable to withstand such temperature shifts and calls for a study on the same.


Building intersectional heatwave workforces with concepts, skills, and capacities to prevent, manage and reduce loss, and evaluate to do better also came up. It is observed that such a workforce is rare, and much needed, at the intersection of innovation, technology, and agile leadership in humanitarian action.


As Professor Prabodh Chakrabarti pointed out, Heatwave affected population is hardly protected by the cover of social safety net, which in turn connects to the massive loss and damage occurring by heatwaves. Resolving or forming sustainable practices that ensure uniform funding to efficiently protect (as Keya highlighted) is critical. Coming together researchers and operational experts and studying and piloting heatwave safety nets – formal and informal, is overdue in South Asia.


All panelists collectively underlined that heatwaves must be reconsidered as an emergency crisis in humanitarian studies since SREX study of IPCC. By immersing in bold and cutting-edge innovative observations, heat waves can be observed and managed much better and differently than today. The only way forward for us is together.

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