Delhi’s Homeless Brace for Searing Heat: Experts Call for Urgent Relief Measures

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Study highlights the vulnerability of central areas and urges tailored support for homeless amid rising heatwave predictions

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — A majority of Delhi’s homeless reside in the central areas of the sprawling city, where surface temperatures tend to be relatively lower compared to the outskirts and industrial zones. However, staying in these core areas becomes increasingly challenging during the summer months.

As the country braces itself for another round of scorching heat, forecasts indicate an increase in the number of heatwave days this year. These predictions underscore the critical need for authorities to implement preparedness and relief measures.

Independent experts estimate that between 200,000 to 250,000 individuals in Delhi are homeless, encompassing women, children, transgenders, the elderly, the disabled, and other marginalised groups. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) spearheads efforts to combat homelessness in the city, overseeing a network of 195 shelters. These include 82 permanent structures within the existing government premises, 103 porta cabins having tin sheets, and 10 shelters established under special initiatives. Despite these endeavours, the combined capacity of these shelters is approximately 16,675 beds, a mere fraction of the city’s estimated homeless population.

A study conducted by the Housing and Land Rights Network in Delhi examined the impact of extreme heat on the city’s homeless demographic, utilising data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Landsat 8 Operational Land Imagery/Thermal Infrared Sensor (OLI/TIRS) satellite imagery. Areas experiencing high temperatures are depicted in bright red on the map, gradually transitioning to yellow as temperatures decrease.

Clusters of homeless individuals predominantly inhabit the central districts of the city, where commercial hubs and employment opportunities abound. For instance, significant homeless populations are found in areas like the Yamuna Pushta, which has emerged as a vital labour hub offering numerous employment prospects. Additionally, homeless presence is notable in religious centers such as Nizamuddin, where donations normally cater to the needs of the destitute.

While temperatures in these central areas are relatively lower compared to industrial zones, they still experience significant heat. Areas like Asif Ali Road, Chawri Bazaar, Anand Parbat Industrial Area, and Sadar Bazaar in the north-east, and Badarpur, Jaitpur in the south, witness surface temperatures reaching 40-45 degrees Celsius. Despite the extreme heat, homeless individuals gravitate towards these central areas due to limited alternatives for livelihood.

The study also revealed exceptionally high ground surface temperatures in certain parts of the city, primarily concentrated in industrial zones situated in the north and southwest. Prominent areas include Najafgarh, Dwarka, Naraina, Rohini, Mundka, Bawana, and Narela.

Extreme heat can have profound effects on the human body, a reality underscored by a February 2024 report from IndiaSpend. The adverse impact of scorching temperatures on homeless individuals was highlighted in a survey conducted during May-June 2023 in Delhi, where nearly all (99%) of the 102 respondents living on the streets reported experiencing insomnia.

The health problems induced by excessive heat are extensive, encompassing heatstroke, bone frailty, eye ailments, diarrhoea, and skin irritations such as rashes, restlessness, breathing difficulties, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, high blood pressure, headaches, and fever. Additional symptoms include coughing, cholera, frequent nosebleeds, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, and infections.

Mitigating these challenges poses a significant hurdle due to limited resources and inadequate living conditions. Homeless individuals often resort to temporary measures like using tarpaulins, frequent bathing, and seeking shade in parks or near trees to alleviate the impact of extreme heat.

In response to these concerns, Delhi introduced its Heat Action Plan last year, which identifies areas most susceptible to heat stress through a vulnerability index. This index considers various factors including sanitation, water access, electricity, healthcare, transportation, housing, cooking facilities, and awareness levels. The plan identified 10 hotspots with the highest levels of heat stress, including Jahangirpuri, Prem Bari bridge (near Azadpur Mandi), Shakur Ki Dandi, Khayala slum, Mayapuri slum, Indira Kalyan Vihar, Sanjay Colony, Vishwas Nagar, and Buland Masjid slum.

A study indicates that approximately six wards in Delhi lack the necessary infrastructure to cope with heat waves, further exacerbated by a significant homeless population residing in these areas. This underscores the urgency for the government to implement targeted relief efforts. While the Heat Action Plan outlines strategies to mitigate the impact of heat waves, it falls short of addressing the specific needs of homeless individuals.

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