Here at Possibly, we wondered - in a warming world, what can we do to prepare our cities for more hot weather? 

Megan Hall: Possibly’s Isha Chawla and Fatima Husain looked into this question. Isha, can you tell us how folks deal with extreme heat in India, where you live? 

Isha Chawla: Megan, you might be surprised to learn this, but India started taking extreme heat seriously only about a decade ago. And it all started in Ahmedabad, a city known for its high  temperatures.

Dileep Mavalankar: There was a major heatwave in Ahmedabad city and the region in 2012, the temperature went to something like 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gulrez Azhar: I mean, one feels completely restless, sweating, it's like being slow-cooked in, like living in an oven.

Fatima Husain: After that heatwave, [Mavalankar and Azhar] worked together to create Ahme-dabad’s preparedness plan for extreme heat events. Their plan was actually the first of its kind in South Asia.

Megan Hall: Why did a place that was used to hot weather need a plan like this?

Isha Chawla: Well, when Gulrez and Dileep took a close look at the data from 2012, they realized that even in India, heat waves could cause spikes in deaths.

Dileep Mavalankar: When you read that one person died in the newspaper, heatstroke, that means there are many more people who are not reported but may have been affected.

Fatima Husain: We usually think about the direct effects of heat waves: People get dehydrated and can’t cool down after being in the sun for too long. 

Isha Chawla: But Dileep says very few people die this way. The majority of deaths during a heat wave happen when those hot temperatures make it harder for the body to function.

Fatima Husain: This is more likely to happen to people with pre-existing conditions or weak immune systems, like children and seniors. 

Megan Hall: Ok, so what did they do?

Fatima Husain: First, they created a system to predict extreme heat before it happened, and used color codes to show if the forecast included dangerous heat levels.  

Isha Chawla: They also teamed up with the local government to create a plan to prepare for days with really hot weather. 

Megan Hall: What was in the plan?

Isha Chawla: Everything from keeping parks open in the afternoon and giving out cold drinking water to training health professionals and building cool roofs that reflect more sunlight.

Megan Hall: That doesn’t sound too different from what we do on hot days. 

Fatima Husain: That’s true. But Gulrez says it’s not just about the things you do during a heat wave. Building awareness beforehand is just as important. He says they found out that people were...

Gulrez Azhar: four times less likely to fall sick of heat if they knew heat could be bad for their health.

Isha Chawla: To create awareness, they worked with the city government to publicize the best ways to stay safe in the heat. 

Megan Hall: The plan is almost 10 years old. Has it been successful?

Fatima Husain: Yes. Dileep says although there have been some major heat waves in the region, deaths during those times have decreased by as much as 40%.

Megan Hall: That’s pretty impressive. What can the US learn from their experience?

Isha Chawla: Well, as you said before, the US has a lot of great technologies for predicting hot weather, and you do have things like cooling stations.

Fatima Husain: But Gulrez says making sure people know that these temperatures are dangerous, and giving them tips to stay safe, can make a big impact.

Isha Chawla: For all of our focus on preventing more climate change, we also have to start working hard to adapt to the changes that are too late to stop. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality.

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio. Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, click here.