With touch of paint, In­dia slum dwellers bat­tle ex­treme heat

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Meen­aben used to dread the on­set of sum­mer ev­ery year. Her small two-room home in a slum in the western In­dian city of Ahmedabad would get so hot that she could not sit in­doors for sev­eral hours in the day, even with a ceil­ing fan run­ning. Two months ago, how­ever, she agreed to try an ex­per­i­ment: A non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that works in the Ramesh Dutt Colony where she lives, on the out­skirts of the city, painted her tin roof with white re­flec­tive paint, to try to re­duce the heat.

The sim­ple change worked. Through the month of May - usu­ally the hottest time of year with tem­per­a­tures reach­ing nearly 45 de­gree Cel­sius on many days - Meen­aben, who goes by one name, has been able to sit in her home and even work, sewing quilts and bed­cov­ers. “We used to re­ally suf­fer from the heat. We could not sit in­side, we could not work, peo­ple were fall­ing sick,” she said. “This year it has been so much bet­ter. The paint brought the tem­per­a­ture down by sev­eral de­grees, and I have been able to sit in my home, do my work,” she said.

The re­flec­tive paint is an ex­per­i­ment by Ahmedabad-based Mahila Hous­ing Trust (MHT), a non-profit that is teach­ing women to be more re­silient in 100 slums in five cities. The or­gan­i­sa­tion, which fo­cuses on up­grad­ing and re­de­vel­op­ing slums and help­ing women se­cure prop­erty rights, is also help­ing women deal with cli­mate change pres­sure, through tech­niques such as rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing and com­post­ing.

“They work so hard to im­prove their lives, their homes. But even one set­back from some­thing like flash floods or a heat­wave can have a big im­pact and cause them to slip back into poverty,” said Bharati Bhon­sale, a pro­gram man­ager at MHT. “A flash flood can de­stroy their be­long­ings, heat stress af­fects their work and their health. So it’s im­por­tant they are equipped to man­age the ef­fects of cli­mate change,” she said.

Ex­treme Heat

In­creas­ingly ex­treme heat is one of the many ef­fects of cli­mate change in In­dia, where a mod­est 0.5 de­gree Cel­sius rise in av­er­age tem­per­a­tures over the last 50 years has led to a nearly 150 per­cent hike in heat­waves that kill at least 100 peo­ple. The num­ber of recorded deaths due to heat­waves in 2015 - more than 2,400 - was higher than the death toll from any other nat­u­ral dis­as­ter that year, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data. Ahmedabad knows first­hand the dan­gers of ex­treme heat. A ma­jor heat­wave in 2010 caused more than 1,000 deaths.

In 2013, the city adopted a Heat Ac­tion Plan that in­cludes a warn­ing sys­tem, and works with civil society groups to try to pro­tect the city’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. MHT knows the dis­pro­por­tion­ate ef­fect of cli­mate change on the city’s poor­est res­i­dents, and is try­ing to do some­thing about it. It is ex­per­i­ment­ing with re­flec­tive paint, in­su­lated ceil­ings and mo­du­lar roofs in homes in Ramesh Dutt Colony. These are low­cost op­tions that can bring down in­door tem­per­a­tures by sev­eral de­grees, Bhon­sale told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Women are also trained in mea­sures such as us­ing fuel-ef­fi­cient stoves to re­duce reliance on fire­wood, rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing, com­post­ing, clean­ing stormwa­ter drains and plant­ing shrubs to help pre­vent flash floods. The trust has in­stalled a warn­ing sys­tem in some slums that sounds an alarm dur­ing heavy rains, so res­i­dents can move doc­u­ments and food to higher spots in case of flood­ing, Bhon­sale said. “For poor women their home is also their work­place, their store­house. They are much more sen­si­tized to the im­pact of cli­mate change, and un­der­stand the se­ri­ous­ness of it,” she said.

Snakes and Lad­ders

In Ramesh Dutt Colony, the women have also learned to keep the nar­row lanes trash free and look for places where rain­wa­ter may col­lect, to pre­vent the spread of mos­quito-borne dis­eases such as malaria an­other ef­fect of ris­ing tem­per­a­tures. In teach­ing women about cli­mate change and its ef­fects, Bhon­sale of­ten uses a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the chil­dren’s board game Snakes and Lad­ders. Get­ting a prop­erty ti­tle or us­ing a so­lar cooker takes them up a lad­der, while los­ing be­long­ings in a flood or be­ing un­able to work be­cause of the heat brings them slid­ing down on a snake.

“They may not un­der­stand the sci­ence of global warm­ing, but they have first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of its ef­fects, and with some ed­u­ca­tion and sim­ple solutions, they are bet­ter able to tackle it,” Bhon­sale said. “They no longer have to say: this is how it is, we can do noth­ing about it.” — Reuters

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