Being one of the major flagship initiatives, the Smart Cities Mission of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India is aimed at creating, renovating and transforming the status quo of Indian cities like never before. With this ambitious program at sight, it is projected to deliver services for the population as desired by them to lead a peaceful and prosperous life with services and other benefits at hand. The Smart Cities concept largely aims at introducing reformed services in key characters of services like e-governance and citizen services, energy management, waste management, urban mobility and waste management, among others.
In the 21st century, the world we live in, the cities of urban zones and rural far-away countrysides have been transformed due to globalization, say, from cities like Paris to Shanghai, Chicago to New Delhi.
Science and technology have made the lives of human society and the natural ecosystem well connected with its creations and subsequent developments. The eventual developments have come at a cost with a threat that the climate, which is changing, is challenging the society at large. With the increase in population, the climate change presents a unique challenge for the people living in urban regions.
It is projected that with changes in extreme weather conditions and climate events, a huge impact in the population is likely to be witnessed and various issues like health ailments would rise.
Extreme events have the potential to generate fewer cold days and nights, warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas, warmer temperatures, increase in frequency of heat waves, heavy precipitation events, increase in drought, intense tropical cyclone activity, with other threatening climate events, with an assumption that all the aforementioned events are virtually certain and most likely to occur. As a result, it would have a negative impact in the population’s livelihood and comfort.
India is the 4th fastest growing economy in the world and has undertaken a gamut of development policies for the growth and development of the country for the next few years. Out of the many policies, one that strikes the most is the Smart Cities Mission.
Even though the stated plan is noble in its character, the issues which lie behind the positive scenes, are not so encouraging and a scientific phenomenon of the Urban Heat Islands, exacerbating as the pace of urbanization fastens with the increase in population, has the potential to undermine the efforts and bring catastrophic disasters and public health is at stake. Concerted efforts to mitigate the threat is the need of the hour.
In the previous decade, studies from NASA Satellite data confirmed that Urban Heat Islands (UHI) are responsible for an increase in rainfall events around cities by using the world’s first space-based radar aboard NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. It has been observed that cities tend to be 1 – 10 degrees Fahrenheit (0.56-5.6 Celsius) warmer than its surrounding suburbs and other rural regions. The added heat can lead to destabilization and change the mode of air circulation in and around the cities. By 2025, it is predicted that 80 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. UHI is created in large cities as a result of excessive artificial urban surfaces. Example, concrete and asphalt act as a giant reservoir of heat is making Indian cities hotter. The stored heat is absorbed in the day and released at night. The pollution arising from automobiles and other sources yielding more heat and pollutants are responsible for increasing emissions, which has the potential to increase global warming.
In the Indian cities context, with rapid economic progress, differing speeds of urbanization and less emphasized green techniques in developing urban centers is now a major concern. It is necessary to understand the impact of rapid urbanization on local climate India’s concretising cities are becoming heat islands. Urban Heat Islands, the deadly heat waves and the human health in the major highly populated Indian cities is a threat that best cannot be left ignored and a public health crisis is just looming around the corner. Researchers have warned that a warming climate would result in an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat. It is observed that UHI experienced by many cities is larger at night than during the day, more pronounced in winter and is more apparent when weaker winds blow out.
The combined processes of rapid industrialization and population growth in the last few decades have been significantly affecting the urban climate, the air quality of major Indian cities and other developing cities leading to imbalances in the regional climates.
The temperature trends in urbanized cities are rapidly rising and erratic monsoon rainfall due to extreme climatic events is on the rise disrupting the common citizens and the economy. Due to unplanned development, urban floods have been a major subject to worry about. The recent heavy floods in Mumbai on August 29th, 2017 are a testament to the changing climate.
With all these factors at play, the health of citizens are at stake and any natural or man-made disaster would cause a turmoil in the life of inhabitants.
The State of Global Air 2017 report compiled by the US – based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), concluded that the air quality in India has deteriorated faster than ever during 2010-2015, to which concerned authorities in India rejected the claims in the report believing the data and findings inappropriate. In matters of public health, scientific research, and findings of the research, an open-minded approach is utmost necessary rather than believing on one’s own vested interests and findings.
On a global scale, a recent report published by the World Health Organization has found that there has been4.24 million deaths worldwide in 2015. The deaths could be attributed to PM 2.5 – fine particulate matter which has a diameter less than 2.5 micrometer, is highly dangerous. In the Indian context, about 1.09 million deaths have occurred in 2015.
Again, in a recent report compiled by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America, reported that due to climate change and global warming over 1900 farmer suicides have been trigerred every year during the last 30 years in India.
To ignore the findings would be foolish, rather it is highly essential to devise emergency strategies to contain the rising influence of Urban Heat Islands and its impact on air pollution.
Being one of the major flagship projects being implemented by the government, the aims of ensuring adequate water supply and electricity, robust solid waster management with affordable housing with clean water and hygiene, and efficient and state-of-art urban mobility and public transport a long and painstaking task is on the pipeline for developers and keeping concerns for both development and environmental sustainability should be highly prioritized without delving into anything irrelevant which might not be a boon for the citizens.
So, anthropogenic heat, air pollution, thermal properties of materials used in construction purposes, and the surface geometries of the cities which is largely responsible for the urban Heat Island effects need to be thoroughly studied, and come up with a concrete plan to mitigate the efforts, or else reports of heat stresses, heat waves and deaths due to air pollution are inevitable to rise.
Energy demand is on the rise and promoting the sustainability of environment and the maintenance of air quality at rapidly rising cities, along with protecting the human health is a massive assignment to work upon and mitigating the effects of urban heat islands is a must as a first step towards comprehensively dealing with this issue of climate change and its health impact in urbanized cities in India, and worldwide.
An abridged version has been first published at Your Commonwealth.