Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hotter summers are coming to Mumbai, and it won't be pretty

Shruti Navindran in the Guardian (UK): By some projections, India’s financial capital, Mumbai, will experience “unprecedented heat” within the next two decades. Last June, the IPCC Fifth Assessment report warned of larger “near-term increases in seasonal mean and annual mean temperatures” in the region. That spells longer, more frequent bouts of extreme heat, elevated minimum temperatures, and warmer winters. Last month, meanwhile, the journal Nature published a meta-analysis using 39 climate models to predict “dates of departures” when local temperatures would exceed historical extremes recorded over the previous 150 years. They figured Mumbai’s date with the inferno could come as early as 2034 if there was no change in global carbon output.

Though all of us are all sensitive to heat, and quick to react when it climbs above our comfort levels, our knowledge of how it might affect our health doesn’t really go beyond sunstrokes and fainting spells. A 2008 paper by medical geographer Rais Akhtar and environmental epidemiologist Sari Kovats spells out the dubious gifts that climate-change exacerbated heat is likely to bring Asian cities. This includes an uptick in deaths from cardio-respiratory disease, heat-related illness and death, increased rates of potential transmission of vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria, and a shrinking in the quantity and quality of available water, further amplifying the burden of disease. Researchers have also found that climate change-enhanced heat and humidity are conducive to the spread of falciparum malaria, the disease’s deadliest strain.

No one is likely to suffer the ill effects of this heat more than the 7.25 million slum-dwellers who’ve made Mumbai their home, and who comprise well over half the city’s population. “Slum-dwellers face a double burden: they face the crisis, and if they talk about it, they face evictions,” said Sheela Patel, a social worker who has helped the city’s shack and slum dwellers access suitable housing and infrastructure for two decades. Akhtar notes that slums, due to density, lack of vegetation and materials used in construction, tend to be heat traps “exacerbated by the proximity of city structures, vehicle exhaust emissions, and industrial activity”....

A slum in Mumbai, shot by Sthitaprajna Jena, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

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