Summer Means Suffering: How Workers Survive The Intense Gulf Heat


Dubai – Like millions of other migrant workers in the Gulf, one of the hottest and driest regions in the world, construction worker B. Sajay doesn’t like the summer.

“We work at very high temperatures, that’s the nature of our work. And yes, we are suffering from very hot weather,” the Indian national told AFP in Muscat, the capital of Oman.

Although summer is just beginning, temperatures have already topped 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of the desert region, which is bearing the brunt of climate change.

Summer means suffering for anyone working outdoors, as well as the risk of dehydration, heat stroke and heart failure, and the Gulf countries have banned working outdoors during the hottest hours of the day.

“The only thing that relieves us is the rest period… in the middle of the day,” explains Sajay, who has worked on construction sites for six years.

Last year, a report by the World Health Organization found that the risk of death doubled or tripled on extremely hot days in Kuwait, with a disproportionate effect on non-Kuwaiti men, who make up the bulk of workers. outdoors.

Workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are ubiquitous in the oil-rich Gulf countries, providing cheap labor and filling jobs shunned by citizens in favor of well-paid government positions.

Imported laborers typically work on construction sites or pick up trash, sweep roads, or deliver food.

– Unbearable even in the shade –

Between June and August, oil-producing Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman – prohibit working outdoors for about four hours from noon.

Workers return to their sleeping quarters or shelter in whatever shade they can find. But more and more, it is unbearable even in the shade.

On the first day of summer on Tuesday, temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius in many places, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which recorded the hottest May temperature of the month in the world, 53.2 degrees Celsius ( 128.8 Fahrenheit).

“The last 10 years have been the hottest in Kuwait,” said Kuwaiti meteorologist Issa Ramadan, adding, “Summer in Kuwait now extends into September, and sometimes into part of October.

In Muscat, workers paving a road with asphalt covered their heads with colorful scarves and hats, while others found shade under date palms in the middle of a two-way street. Passers-by held umbrellas to shield themselves from the scorching sun.

“In order to finish the eight-hour shift as soon as possible, I sometimes start work from six in the morning, stop during the rest period, and then work two more hours,” said Muhammad Mukarram, a construction worker from Bangladesh.

The region-wide problem has long been a source of concern. Human rights groups have urged Qatar, host of this year’s World Cup, to investigate worker deaths linked to “heat-related distress”.

There are no reliable figures on the deaths of migrant workers in the Gulf countries, which do not publish statistics and regularly dispute the estimates published by NGOs and the media.

A recent study by the Vital Signs Partnership, a group of human rights organizations primarily from Asian countries, said that “up to 10,000 migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia die in the Gulf every year”.

The March 2022 report said more than half of cases were recorded as “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest”.

– Deadly heat –

In 2020, a study published in the journal Science Advances found that the Gulf has the hottest and wettest climate on the planet.

Scientists have calculated that even with plenty of shade and drinking water, a healthy adult will die if ‘wet bulb’ temperatures – which take into account factors such as humidity, wind speed and cloud cover – exceed 35 degrees Celsius for six hours.

The study showed that there have only been 14 occasions on land where the measurement exceeded 35C, all in the past two decades and eight of them in the Gulf.

Another study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that “during this century, parts of the Gulf region could be hit by unprecedented deadly heat events due to climate change.”

“If we don’t change course, these temperatures will continue to rise over the years, reaching a level where outdoor human activities in the Gulf, such as the hajj pilgrimage, would be nearly impossible in the summer,” Julien said. Jreissati, program director at Greenpeace MENA. , told AFP.

Saudi Arabia is preparing to welcome one million pilgrims next month to perform annual Muslim rituals.

“The only solution is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels which are the main driver of climate change and to gradually but quickly shift to renewable energy,” Jreissati said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions over the next few decades, while increasing oil production.

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