Surviving the Mideast’s midsummer heat

Sunday 16/07/2017
Refreshing respite. Boys find respite from summer heat in a portable swimming pool at Manshiyet Nasser in eastern Cairo. (Reuters)

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.