Climate Action

Why climate finance is pivotal to alleviating harm from South Asia's extreme heat

2 year old boy is enjoying and playing in a puddle of stranded rainwater: Effective climate finance with targeted strategies can help alleviate the adverse impacts of extreme heat in South Asia.

Effective climate finance with targeted strategies can help alleviate the adverse impacts of extreme heat in South Asia. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Aarti Lila Ram
Global Shaper, Karachi Hub, World Economic Forum
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  • Heatwaves in Pakistan and India have reached withering degrees but especially impact vulnerable communities least responsible for the emissions that cause climate change and such weather events.
  • Extreme heat in South Asia has forced thousands of schools to close, widening the education gap for children from low-income families. It has also impacted the livelihoods of occupational groups vulnerable to heat impacts, such as construction workers and fishermen.
  • Delivering adequate climate finance and establishing an effective' loss and damage' fund is crucial in addressing climate change impacts. This must be done with targeted strategies, such as heat action plans.

In the sweltering streets of South Asia, where temperatures soar to staggering heights, heat waves are not merely weather phenomena but existential threats, casting a long shadow over the region's future. Recently, temperatures have soared as high as 52 degrees Celsius in Pakistan and India, emphasizing the severity of the situation.

As climate change accelerates, South Asia finds itself at the forefront of a battle against rising temperatures, with heat waves wreaking havoc on lives, livelihoods and ecosystems. From the ancient ruins of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan to the modern hustle of Delhi, India, no corner of the subcontinent is immune to the scorching embrace of extreme heat.

However, the most vulnerable populations, those who have least contributed to climate change, bear the heaviest burden. Among these vulnerable groups, the impacts are even more severe for female-headed households, children, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, landless tenants, migrant workers, displaced persons, sexual and gender minorities, older people and other socially marginalized communities.

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Unprecedented heatwaves

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report emphasizes urgency – that climate risks are escalating faster than anticipated. The report highlights how 3.6 billion people live in highly vulnerable areas, with low-income countries and small island developing states disproportionately affected. Despite contributing minimal emissions, these regions suffer the most, with death rates from extreme weather events 15 times higher than in less vulnerable areas.

In South Asia, extreme heat has forced thousands of schools to close, widening the education gap for children from low-income families. This disruption compounds previous school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing dropout risks and negatively impacting human capital development.

Certain occupational groups, such as construction workers, transport drivers, farmers and fishermen, face disproportionate heat impacts, affecting their livelihoods, reducing income and posing serious health risks.

Additionally, an exceptionally warm April and May event occurred, with only a 3% probability of occurring in any given year, roughly once every 30 years. Climate change has made these extreme temperatures about 45 times more likely and 0.85 degrees Celsius hotter compared with previous decades.

Navigating climate aid disbursement

Delivering adequate climate finance and establishing an effective' loss and damage' fund are crucial in addressing climate change impacts in South Asia, including heat waves. Despite over $700 million pledged to the Loss and Damage Fund at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), questions persist regarding the transparency and effectiveness of fund disbursement. Urgent action is needed to ensure climate finance reaches those most vulnerable, especially at the grassroots level.

While the establishment of the fund is a positive step, significant uncertainty remains about the timing and distribution of promised funds. Effective mechanisms are required to ensure wealthier countries fulfil their obligations to support developing nations in managing climate change consequences.

It is imperative to implement systems that facilitate efficient fund distribution and hold those responsible for providing assistance to communities most affected by heat waves and other climate-related disasters in South Asia accountable.

In light of these challenges, it is crucial to employ targeted strategies that utilize climate finance effectively to manage heat stress and mitigate the devastating impacts of heat waves in South Asia.

In South Asia, extreme heat has forced thousands of schools to close, widening the education gap for children from low-income families.

Implementing heat action plans

Ahmedabad, India, stands as a prime example in South Asia of utilizing climate finance to implement tailored heat action plans to increase preparedness and minimize extreme heat impacts post-heatwave in major cities. Since the heat action plan was introduced in 2013, following Ia deadly heat wave, reduced heat-related mortality has significantly decreased, with an estimated annual 1,190 deaths averted.

A key feature is its colour-coded heat alert system, which provides up to five days' notice of impending high temperatures, facilitating inter-agency coordination and preparation. This ensures that residents, city officials, and health services are well-prepared to respond effectively.

Public awareness is pivotal in mitigating heat wave impacts. Community outreach educates residents about heat dangers and prevention strategies, including simple, low-cost measures like staying hydrated and adjusting outdoor activities. Extensive education efforts ensure widespread awareness and create a well-informed community.

Moreover, comprehensive training for healthcare providers enhances heat-related illness diagnosis and management. That includes training for health system administrators and frontline community health workers, equipping them to recognize and address heat-related dangers effectively.

Heat resilience

Improving infrastructure is vital for mitigating the impacts of extreme heat in urban areas. In northern Bangladesh, an innovative approach integrates traditional materials and techniques with modern designs to create sustainable and resilient buildings, enhancing living conditions while maintaining high sustainability standards.

The project involves constructing model houses for low-income families, designed by local architects and built by artisans trained in modern mud and bamboo techniques. These houses remain cool year-round through roof thermal masses, coconut fibre insulation, glass windows and openings for cross ventilation.

Utilizing traditional materials such as rammed earth foundations and Ferrocement damp-proof courses reduces costs and enhances sustainability. This approach improves heat resilience and empowers local communities by preserving traditional construction knowledge and creating job opportunities.

Community-led solutions

In Rajasthan's Marwar region, recurring droughts and declining groundwater levels have devastated traditional livelihoods, worsening challenges posed by rising temperatures and heat stress. Villagers, heavily reliant on wells, face hardships due to intensified water scarcity.

However, this multi-faceted issue has been addressed via community-led initiatives that focus on rainwater harvesting and rehabilitating water structures. These efforts, alongside the establishment of water management groups, significantly raise awareness and enhance conservation practices among local communities.

Over 80 water harvesting structures have been constructed, directly benefiting thousands across more than 200 villages. These initiatives not only increase vegetation, improve food production and boost economic productivity but also contribute to mitigating the broader impacts of extreme heat, building resilience and sustainable resource management within the community.

Effective climate finance utilization is, therefore, pivotal in combating the escalating threat of heat waves. Tailored strategies, such as heat action plans, infrastructure upgrades and community-led initiatives, show promise in mitigating extreme heat impacts. Urgent action is imperative for transparent fund disbursement and accountability.

The United Nations' aim for global early warning system coverage by 2027 emphasizes the need for proactive measures. Additionally, developing Heat Communication Guides at the state level in South Asia can offer vital resources, creating widespread communication and collaboration to reduce heat impacts on the public.

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