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The role of chief heat officer in Dhaka city

Kaisul Khan
05 May 2024 20:09:53 | Update: 05 May 2024 20:34:27
The role of chief heat officer in Dhaka city
— Courtesy Photo

Chief Heat Officer (CHO) is a relatively new term globally. The position was created as a part of an initiative by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock), which began with the appointment of the world's first chief heat officer in Florida's Miami-Dade County in April 2021. In Dhaka North City Corporation, the organization has appointed Asia's first-ever Chief Heat Officer. Bushra Afreen, a graduate of Global Development Studies at Queen's University in Canada, was appointed to the position last year.

Afreen is part of an all-female leadership team of Chief Heat Officers (CHOs) responsible for minimizing global warming and its consequences. These positions were created by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Centre, an international think tank, to make 1 billion people more robust to extreme heat by 2030. These positions aim to combat the growing threat of severe heat, a silent and lethal killer that kills more people than any other climate disaster. Extreme heat is especially hazardous for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, small children, the destitute, and those with pre-existing medical issues.

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the world's most vulnerable cities to the consequences of climate change. Rising temperatures, more frequent and intense heat waves, and extreme weather events are already being felt throughout the city because of global warming. Heat waves are becoming more frequent in Dhaka due to climate change. The city has already become one of the hottest in the world, with the summer temperatures often topping 40 degrees Celsius. Subsequently, the number and intensity of heat waves increase, posing a severe threat to public health. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke can result in the susceptible group, such as children, women, and older people.

A study found that the high density of buildings and population in urban areas and transportation activities contribute to the urban heat island effect, where cities are significantly warmer than the surrounding rural areas. Additionally, the lack of green and blue spaces such as parks, trees, and water bodies further exacerbate the problem by reducing the cooling effect of vegetation and water evaporation.

The general people are the principal victims of the terrible heat wave, so including them in policymaking is critical. Chief Heat Officers worldwide have introduced various methods to address this issue, including managing the temperature of buildings, pavements, and roofs. In addition, some CHOs have initiated afforestation initiatives and other strategies to prevent severe heat and its consequences.

Climate and environmental risks confronting many significant cities in impoverished countries are frequently interconnected. Dhaka, with a population of over 20 million people, is one of the greatest cities facing these challenges. Dhaka is a rapidly expanding and densely populated city with temperatures over 10 degrees Celsius higher than in rural areas. The recent heatwave in Dhaka had devastating consequences, causing significant fires in various parts of the city.

Addressing heat-related concerns at the city level can be tricky since numerous government departments supervise planning, response, and recovery but need a coordinated response strategy to distribute resources and effectively target the most pressing problems. This fragmentation of efforts can also make coordination with community organizations and other parties working on different elements of the issue challenging. Appointing a Chief Heat Officer to coordinate activities across departments and private-sector entities can assist in breaking down silos and enabling more effective collaboration.

The fundamental goal of CHOs is to find long-term and sustainable solutions to cities' heat-related problems. They intend to design measures to alleviate the acute effects of excessive heat and assure long-term heat resilience. This could include installing green roofs, urban forestry, improving building codes, and increasing public awareness and education about heat-related risks. CHOs can assist in establishing long-term solutions that benefit communities for years by embracing a sustainable and long-term strategy.

According to a study by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, heat stress caused by severe temperatures is causing a significant loss of labor output in Dhaka. According to the report, the city loses around US$ 6 billion in labor productivity each year, accounting for more than 8% of the city's annual labor production. If no steps are taken to reduce global warming, this figure might rise to 10% by 2050. Workers in Bangladesh, particularly those in informal and outside sectors such as agriculture, have lower productivity and work for shorter times owing to excessive heat.

These findings highlight the significant economic impact of heatwaves and the need for immediate action to mitigate the effects of extreme heat on workers and the broader community. The global community must address climate change and its consequences for vulnerable groups. Wealthy countries bear a special duty to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change, as they are frequently the most affected by its effects despite contributing the least to the problem. This includes financial assistance, technological transfer, and capacity-building assistance to help these countries design and implement effective climate adaptation programs. Simultaneously, all countries must take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy to mitigate climate change’s worst effects on human societies and the natural world.

With the appointment of a CHO in Dhaka last year, we now have a person or organization in charge of coordinating efforts across several ministries and stakeholders, which can help ensure that resources are appropriately targeted to the most pressing challenges. This can assist in breaking down silos between different entities and enhance collaboration and communication, ultimately leading to more effective action at the local level to address heat-related challenges.