Gulf region sizzles in summer weather five degrees above average

Iraqis suffer the most as lack of electricity and clean water leaves them suffocating

An Iraqi man uses a curbside shower to cool off during a heat wave in the capital Baghdad on June 14, 2019. - As one of the hottest countries in the world with around half of its terrain covered in desert, Iraq is no stranger to stiflingly hot summers. 
But even by its own standards, this June has been a sizzler averaging a daily 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit), compared to around 40 in previous years. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
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The Middle East's scorching heatwave intensified across the region this week, with temperatures rising as much as 8°C above average in some areas and expected to cross 50°C in countries from Iraq to Arabian Gulf states, a climate change analyst said.

"Climate change is expected to worsen the frequency, intensity and impact of some types of extreme weather events, especially heatwaves," Diana Francis, atmospheric scientist at New York University Abu Dhabi, told The National.

To cope, countries need to plant more trees, better manage water resources.

But neither Iraq nor the Gulf region are strangers to hot summers.

Authorities in the Arabian Gulf have taken action in recent years to mitigate the impact of the searing summer heat on the public.

In Kuwait, where the death of a man working outdoors last month was linked to the heat, the government then instructed religious authorities to restrict worship times.

The country's ministry of Islamic affairs and endowments said the Friday sermon should be no longer than 15 minutes at mosques in residential areas, where worshippers sometimes have to pray outside because of overcrowding, and a maximum of 10 minutes in border areas, where temperatures are usually higher, local media reports said.

Omani authorities announced last month a work ban from noon to 3pm for construction workers.

In the UAE, the summer midday break for outdoor workers came into force last month.

Food delivery company Deliveroo said it took measures to ensure the safety and comfort of all of its riders.

In Iraq, the heat is felt particularly acutely. The country's faltering power network is unable to handle the increased load from cooling appliances, meaning that households which cannot afford to buy electricity privately are left without power most of the day.

"We are in the midst of a heatwave with no electricity or water; I feel like we are being punished. The state of an Iraqi citizen is a tragedy," Baghdad resident Ahmad Hussein told The National.

“We are in this state because of the government’s mismanagement and corruption; Iraq is capable of offering its citizens the best public services and jobs,” he said.

Working hours have changed, with businesses opening and closing later, and Baghdad residents are using umbrellas when they go outdoors, Mr Hussein said.

“This heat has no mercy on anyone not even animals, it is unbearable,” he said.

Despite government efforts to address the crisis, Iraqis across the country are forced to get additional electricity supply from private generator operators or buy their own generators, Elizabeth Tsurkov, research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking in Israel, told The National.

“Those who cannot afford to pay for such electricity are suffering immensely,” she said.

To ensure that Iraqis have a steady supply of electricity, government officials must prioritise providing services over enriching themselves and those around them, Ms Tsurkov said.

“Without tackling corruption, Iraqis will continue to suffer in the stifling heat,” she said.

"Families that come from humble backgrounds are the ones that are struggling the most, as they cannot afford to buy generators so they only get two to three hours of electricity a day — and that’s on a good day,” said Suhaila Al Asam, a women’s rights activist.

Ms Al Asam said the government had failed to address the public’s demands and little had changed in the past year.

“If Iraq was stable and we had 24 hours of electricity, none of these issues would occur,” she said.

In southern Iraq, the electricity cuts have affected public hospitals, threatening the lives of patients.