Surviving the Mideast’s midsummer heat
Beirut - The Middle East is baking in extreme temperatures that have soared to more than 50 degrees Celsius at the beginning of summer. Climate change has no better illustration that the recurring heat waves engulfing the mostly arid region.
Iraq is bearing the biggest brunt with temperatures averaging 43-49 degrees, coupled with sharp water shortages and persistent power cuts. In Basra, in southern Iraq, the thermometer hit 51 degrees, creating a particularly intolerable climate in an area notorious for hot summers.
“It is becoming absolutely unbearable. We are living in an inferno with no electricity and no water. In Iraq people are resorting to the old ways that our ancestors used to survive the summer heat,” said Baghdad resident Ahmad Saadoun. He said he sleeps with his family on the roof of his house and uses wet sheets and mattresses to keep cool at night.
Students who had to sit for official exams at the end of June reported a drop in their performance. “There was no air conditioning in exam halls. It was hot and stuffy and many could not concentrate properly,” said Abdallah Nazem, who studied for his exams at cafés and mosques that were air conditioned and supplied with power generators.
For the estimated 3.2 million displaced Iraqis, life in the plastic tents is nearly as harsh as living under the tyranny of the Islamic State (ISIS). Hajj Zanoun Mohamad, who fled the battles in Mosul with his ten-member family, said his children were suffering from dehydration and gastric illnesses due to scorching heat, bad conditions in refugee camps and scarce clean drinking water.
“If we continue living in such conditions our lives will be as endangered, if not more, as under ISIS siege,” he said.
In Beirut, where temperatures were in the 30s and humidity levels crossed 70%, increasingly frequent power cuts combined to leave residents sweltering. Those who can afford it cool off at the city’s private beaches and swimming pools or seek respite in mountain resorts and villages. The less fortunate cram Beirut’s only public beach at Ramlet al-Baida.
Many prefer to stay indoors to avoid both the heat and exacerbating traffic congestion aggravated by the influx of Lebanese expatriates and foreign visitors for the summer.
“I try not to step out of home during the day unless I have to. When I can, I prefer to do my work from home. I try to organise my meetings in the afternoon to avoid midday heat and peak hours but still I am always stuck in traffic,” said Rania Halawi, an art consultant.
For Halawi, even the beach is a place to avoid when it is very hot. “I usually go there in the afternoon when the temperature is milder. During the day, the sun is too strong to handle,” she said.
Considering the array of problems the Lebanese face, including political and economic strains, security issues, the refugee crisis and faltering public services, many say that heat “is the least worry” they have to deal with.
Jordan endured multiple heat waves with temperatures reaching 40 degrees in Amman and 45 degrees in Aqaba on the Red Sea.
Residents of Amman reported several people improvised to ease the hot weather by spraying pedestrians with water from tanks, which became a hit on social media networks. The Jordan Meteorological Department warned citizens about direct exposure to the sun, especially at peak hours, and not to leave children alone in closed vehicles.
“Definitely, heat waves are making our lives miserable especially with the traffic jams and crowded streets due to tourists from the Gulf region. We usually escape to the mountain areas but it is useless, even hilly areas are witnessing hot conditions,” said Amman resident Akram Hamayel.
Demand for drinking water soared across Jordan with shops struggling to provide bottled water. In Amman, Public Security Department members distributed water bottles to labourers, taxi drivers and others whose jobs require being outside
In Egypt, there is mass migration to the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts from the cities when the summer heat peaks in July and August. Millions of Egyptians pack up and head to the beaches, taking a brief break from the sizzling summer heat.
Rising prices and economic strains are having their toll on the ability of many people to travel to resorts to escape the heat.
Temperatures in Cairo hovered around 40 degrees, very high by Egyptian standards. Officials at the Meteorological Authority are out every day to warn citizens against body dehydration and direct exposure to the sun.
“The heat is reaching very high levels, which makes it necessary for citizens to avoid direct exposure,” said Ahmed Abdel A’al, an official at the Meteorological Authority. “Even those on the beach should avoid exposure to the heat between noon and 3.”
The notoriously sizzling Gulf states recorded extremely hot weather, especially in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While many expatriate and Emirati families go abroad coinciding with their children’s summer school holidays, other residents stay to enjoy activities specially laid for this season.
Special summer promotions and activities extend from July to September offering discounts of 20- 50% and raffle draws with fabulous prizes.
Shopping malls and indoor game parks, water parks, night swimming at beach venues that are open are popular places during the summer.
In Dubai, the major malls and shopping centres participating in the summer promotional campaign “Dubai Summer Surprises” offer a range of activities for the family, including shopping, cinemas, ice rinks, skiing and summer camps for children.