India saw the second highest number of heat-related deaths in the world among those over 65 years of age in 2018. At an estimated 31,000 deaths, India was right behind China which had an estimated 62,000 deaths, as per a new report.

Heat stress, heat strokes and their impact on existing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases claimed 296,000 lives of those over 65 years of age across the world in 2018, said the fifth edition of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report published in The Lancet on December 3, 2020. This crisis was observed in both big and small economies indicating that wealth cannot shield countries from the health impacts of climate change.

The Lancet report termed its latest findings as “the most worrying outlook” observed since the inception of its Countdown series in 2016. It noted productivity losses equivalent to billions of working hours; increasing intensity of wildfires and droughts; and rapid transmission of diseases such as dengue and gastrointestinal infections as potential dangers.

The elderly have been increasingly exposed to high levels of heat since the early 2000s, and globally, fatalities caused by heat in those above 65 increased by 53.7% over 18 years to 2018, the report said. The reason is a combination of increasing instances of heatwaves and ageing populations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a global health crisis can bring entire countries to a standstill and without urgent action, climate change too can cause similar damage to lives and livelihoods, the report said. Just like the ongoing pandemic, climate change can overwhelm healthcare systems across the world.

Whether the world can limit global temperature increase to below 2°C will depend on how countries deal with the post-pandemic recovery, the report said–by aligning both climate and pandemic recovery, the world can deliver near-term and long-term health benefits. A green recovery requires that countries invest in climate-friendly projects that reduce/avoid fossil fuel use and promote clean transport, buildings and so on.

“The threats to human health are multiplying and intensifying due to climate change, and unless we change course, our healthcare systems are at risk of being overwhelmed in the future,” said Ian Hamilton, executive director, Lancet Countdown.

Yet, countries have been slow in factoring climate change fallouts into national health plans. Half of the countries surveyed for the report (51 of 101) have developed national health and climate change strategies. Financing still remains a challenge: Of the 45 countries that have plans to tackle climate change impacts and the funding needed for it, only four (9%) reported availability of adequate national funding to fully implement such strategies, the report found.

India’s approach to heat and related mortality has similar shortcomings, IndiaSpend reported on June 16, 2020. Heat-related deaths are under-reported in India due to its medical practices and its adaptation strategy is underfunded, we found.

The annual average temperature in India has risen by 2°C over 200 years till 2006. It is predicted to rise further by 0.6°-2.4°C by 2030. Within 50 years, 1.2 billion people in India would live in areas as hot as the Sahara, if greenhouse gas emissions keep rising. India’s poorest and most underdeveloped areas are the most vulnerable to heat waves. The country is set to lose millions of working hours in….