India saw the output of its workforce decline seven per cent -- equivalent to the loss of 75 billion man hours -- last year due to heatwave conditions, the 2018 Lancet report on health and climate change said on Thursday. The figure is almost four times that of China and a little less than half of the 153 billion manhours lost globally in 2017.
It said the Indian government and related public health agencies must identify "heat hot-spots" through appropriate tracking and modelling of meteorological data and promote the timely development and implementation of local heat action plans, with strategic inter-agency coordination and a response which targets the most vulnerable groups.
Urging a review of existing occupational health standards, labour laws and regulations for worker safety in relation to climatic conditions sector-by-sector, the report also asked India to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, particularly from coal, for the sake of public health.
Globally, 157 million more vulnerable people were subjected to heatwaves last year than in 2000, and 18 million more than in 2016.
Lancet Countdown, a research collaboration among 27 academic institutions and inter-governmental organisations, said 153 billion hours of work were lost globally in 2017 due to extreme heat as a result of climate change.
China alone lost 21 billion hours, the equivalent of a year's work for 1.4 per cent of its working population.
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Rising ambient temperatures are placing vulnerable populations at increased risk across all regions of the world. Heat greatly exacerbates urban air pollution, with 97 per cent of cities in low and middle-income countries not meeting WHO air quality guidelines.
Heat stress, an early and severe effect of climate change, is commonplace and the health systems are ill-equipped to cope.
From 2010 to 2016, air pollution worsened in 70 per cent of cities around the globe, with coal use accounting for approximately 16 per cent of premature mortality related to ambient fine particulate matter.
The frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves in India has increased over the past half-century, with 1985-2009 showing worse trends than 1960-1985.
According to more recent data provided by the Lancet Countdown, which tracks the change in exposure as compared to a 1986-2008 baseline, there has been a marked increase both in the number of vulnerable people over 65 years of age exposed to heatwaves as well in the duration of the heatwaves in the last two decades.
In absolute numbers, there were an additional 40 million heatwave exposure events in India in 2016 as compared to 2012, representing a dangerous surge in the impact of heatwaves on health.
Mortality trends during the Ahmedabad heatwave showed markedly elevated all-cause mortality during the peak heatwave season, with a 43 per cent increase over reference periods.
Data reflected inequities in access to preventive and cooling strategies and adequate healthcare, therefore signaling an urgent need to allocate resources for prevention and mitigation action in disadvantaged populations.
The recent Special Report on Global Warming by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlines the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial era, rather than the two degrees which is the main target of the Paris Agreement.
It found that "global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate," and that "global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching anet zero' around 2050, to stay within 1.5 degrees".
A recent report places India amongst the countries that most experience high social and economic costs from climate change: each additional tonne of carbon dioxide emission costs India $86, followed by US at $48 and Saudi Arabia at $47.5.
The implications of climate change for India cannot, therefore, be understated, the report added.
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