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Battling cold waves

www.thehindubusinessline.com | January 12, 2022
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Long-term plans can arrest human, economic costs

Climate change has been one of the most important concerns in recent decades. For long, India has been hit by some of the world’s worst natural disasters, including floods, tropical cyclones, earthquakes, lightning, landslides, heat, and cold waves, which have severely affected various parts of the country, resulting in the loss of life and property, as well as adversely impacting livelihood.

Among the many disasters that have hit India, the intense cold wave has become one of the most pressing worries in recent years.

The weak La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean are favourable for cold waves in India. Based on departure of minimum temperatures, cold and severe cold waves are regarded as negative departures from normal i.e. 4.5°C to 6.4°C and more than 6.4°C, respectively. According to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India reports, the intense cold wave killed roughly 26,167 people in various States from 1972 to 2019. Per the IMD, the number of fatalities due to cold wave has risen sharply to 722 in 2011 from 490 deaths in 2001.

The impact of cold wave fatalities varies across States due to their diverse geo-climatic conditions and varied socio-economic vulnerability.

Vulnerable States

Central and northern India — Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand — are most vulnerable to cold wave.

According to data, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan have been impacted severely in terms of fatalities from a cold wave. Between 1972-2019, cold waves claimed 1,796 lives in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Bihar (3,941), Punjab (3,261), Madhya Pradesh (1,635), and Haryana (1,499).

On average, 38 people were killed per 10 million populations per year due to cold waves in Himachal Pradesh, which is the highest among the States, followed by Punjab, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. Kerala accounted for the least number of cold wave fatalities. Cold waves have posed serious constraints to productivity and growth by causing extensive human and environmental losses. Cold waves have a variety of consequences, including negative effects on human health. Frostbites, hypothermia, and other major medical problems might occur due to an unexpected cold spell. In locations where there are frequent cold waves, the mortality rate is significantly higher.

Furthermore, the frequent occurrence of the cold wave also adversely affects employment opportunities in the rural and urban labour market. Aside from workers, farmers and small street vendors are also highly affected due to cold waves. It has an adverse impact on their livelihood and thereby on the country’s overall economy. Based on the severity of the cold wave, the government recognised the cold wave as a natural disaster in 2012. Several initiatives and measures have been undertaken to mitigate and adapt to other extreme weather-related shocks, but such initiatives are not adequate to prevent human fatalities. Still, it remains a challenge to take standardised preventive, mitigation, and preparedness measures.

To mitigate the impact of cold waves, adequate disaster adaptation measures and better disaster management policies are essential.

As deaths due to cold waves are preventable, the government must prioritise preparing long-term action plans to safeguard human lives, livestock, and wildlife.

Greater spending towards disaster management activities, including improving early warning systems, better rehabilitation measures, and providing shelter facilities during cold days, would help minimise the loss of human lives.

Sahoo is an OES officer; Parida teaches Economics at FLAME University, Pune, and Bhardwaj is an independent researcher, New Delhi; Views expressed are personal

( Source: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/battling-cold-waves/article38256749.ece )