The year 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded globally according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).The effects of these rising temperatures are felt acutely in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, India where heat-waves are a common phenomenon. The impacts of these heat-waves are understudied as most existing studies focus primarily on urban areas.
A recent study that I am a part of attempts to address this gap by studying the effects of heat stress in Yavatamal district, part of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. The study is being undertaken in partnership with Wageningen University and Research (WUR) & SDPI & focuses on understanding the thermal comfort variations in different types of houses, among various social groups and across genders, ages, and its coping mechanisms. We started with collecting traditional data on socio-economic status and self-reported impacts of heat stress work in tandem with measurements of both indoor and outdoor temperatures. Indoor temperatures are important because traditional housing structures are being replaced by brick and mortar ones, where temperatures can vary greatly on account of a variety of roofing material: tin roof, RCC and tiles roof. As we conducted our data collection at the peak of summer, we distributed pamphlets with information on avoiding unnecessary exposure and treating heat-stroke.
Analyzing the vast amounts of data collected was a new experience for me. In order to learn how to analyze this data I travelled to Wageningen, Netherlands to spend two weeks with Dr. Cor Jacobs at WUR. During my time at Wageningen I spent time understanding how thermal indicators and other indicators can be used to determine heat stress and learned how to extract, restructure and clean the considerable column of data generated by the device.
Primary focus was on the hourly and day time average temperature, average indoor and outdoor temperature recorded by the devices. During training program we had narrowed our efforts on the peak summer period, 10 May to 30 June 2016. Preliminary analysis suggest tin roof structures are poorly suited for peak summer conditions with recorded in the tin-roof structure climbing to 52°C!
Globally the rise in temperatures is unambiguous, of the 17 hottest years ever recorded, 2016 marked the third consecutive year, where record-breaking temperatures were recorded. Given these trends, we need to pay more attention to how these temperatures affect people, particularly those living in rural areas, where access to health services and basic infrastructure is poor. Further, recent studies and anecdotal accounts, suggests that the absence of tree cover may be contributing to the high temperatures in rural India. Our study, by actually measuring temperatures experienced by rural households and linking this information to heat stress and health impacts can provide important insights for policy and practice.