How Middle East community dealt with UK heatwave

'I’m Lebanese, whatever you throw at us we manage. I’m really fine with this heat'

Children play in a fountain in Trafalgar Square in London during a heatwave which saw the UK endure its hottest day on record, with temperatures breaching 40C for the first time. EPA
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Residents in the Middle East and North Africa might be forgiven for finding the hysteria over a record-breaking heatwave in the UK a bit excessive.

During the summer, temperatures there consistently exceed the 40ºC reached in some parts of Britain on Tuesday.

In some parts of Iraq and Kuwait, sweltering summer temperatures stay above 50ºC for weeks, while average temperatures across the region average a sweat-inducing 35ºC.

So when the Met Office issued its first red alert over the two-day scorcher that sent Brits running for cover, some of the UK’s Middle Eastern residents did not quite get what all the fuss was about.

On the hottest day in British recorded history, people attending an event at the Arab British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) offices in central London seemed minimally concerned by the scorching conditions outside.

“I walked here from my office,” said a Saudi Arabian man who lives in London. “This is fine, it’s not too bad. You should come to the Gulf this time of year and see.”


Naturally, sitting in an air-conditioned basement room away from the sun’s glare made for a relatively cool time for attendees escaping the afternoon sun.

It also shed light on the reasons why Europeans and Brits struggle to adapt to the heat.

“I guess we have a lot more air conditioning in the Middle East, which you don’t really have in the UK,” Fayha, a Syrian, said at the ABCC’s offices.

“But we also don’t go out during the hottest daytime hours, the streets are empty during those times and everyone stays indoors and we move our outings and shopping to the evening instead.”

As she rushed to make it to the London underground before the rush hour began, the added realisation came that the different modes of public transport in the two regions also affect overall heat tolerance.

Travelling by train is still relatively uncommon in most of the Middle East with heavy reliance on artificially cooled cars ― or buses with windows rolled down ― to get around.

Where new railway or underground facilities have been built, as in the UAE, carriages are well equipped with air conditioning.

Meanwhile, in the UK capital, only four out of 11 underground Tube lines have air conditioning and the country’s steel railway tracks are buckling under the extreme heat, resulting in widespread disruptions to service.

“I’m Lebanese, whatever you throw at us we manage. I’m really fine with this heat,” said another member of the chamber when asked her she was handling the hot weather.

Indeed, perhaps it is also the chaos the extreme heat induced that has allowed Middle Easterners in the UK to approach the scorching temperatures with such insouciant familiarity.

Updated: July 20, 2022, 2:41 PM