Summer has not yet begun, with temperatures already hovering above 50 degrees Celsius in some Gulf Arab countries, and experts say they are at risk of becoming lifeless due to global warming.
For the millions of migrants who work on construction sites in this desert but are rich in hydrocarbons, summer is the equivalent of testing.
“We are working at high temperatures. We are suffering from hot weather,” P. Sajay, an Indian worker who has been working for six years in Muscat, the capital of Oman, one of the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, told AFP.
“The only thing that frees us is the rest of the day (…),” he adds.
Like other Gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, the sultanate is heavily dependent on cheap foreign labor, mainly from Asia.
Thousands of young workers come to the area each year to do jobs that citizens of host countries refuse to do, such as in the oil industry, construction, cleaning or garbage collection.
– Warm Decade –
There are no reliable data on the number of migrant workers killed in the Gulf countries, which do not release statistics and consistently refute the estimates of NGOs and the media.
According to a study conducted by the Viral Sign Partnership, which unites several NGOs, mainly in Asian countries, about 10,000 migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia die in the Gulf each year. More than half of the deaths were classified as “cardiac arrest” or “natural death”, according to the report, released in March 2022.
During the intense heat, between June and August, outdoor work is legally prohibited until noon and about 4 p.m.
Workers then hide in rare areas protected from sunlight, while waiting for work to resume, when the temperature is usually above 45 degrees.
Already in May, Mercury hit 53.2 degrees in Kuwait, the warmest place on earth.
“The country has been hotter for the last ten years,” says Issa Ramadan, a Kuwaiti meteorologist.
In the scorching sun of Muscat, Oman, road construction workers cover their heads with colorful scarves and hats, while others take refuge under pears.
“Sometimes I start at six in the morning to finish an eight-hour day. I stop in my spare time and then do it for two more hours, ”said Mohammad Mukherjee, a construction worker from Bangladesh.
In Qatar, human rights organizations have called on the country hosting the 2022 World Cup to protect the hundreds of thousands of migrants working on construction sites around the world and to investigate death cases related to the “heat tragedy.”
– Deadly heat –
According to a 2020 study published in the journal Science Advances, the Gulf region has the hottest and wettest climate on the planet.
In this study, scientists calculated the wet-bulb globe temperature index (WBGT in English, different from degrees Celsius), which ‘measures the effect of human heat, humidity and solar radiation.
They concluded that a healthy adult could not live in the shade of 35 degrees WBGT for more than six hours, even in the shade and in plenty of water.
However, this temperature has reached 14 times worldwide in the last twenty years, including eight in the Gulf.
Another study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, raised the risk that the region would be affected by “episodes of unprecedented extreme heat caused by climate change” and that large cities would become uninhabitable even in shady and well-ventilated areas.
“If we do not change course, temperatures will continue to rise to such an extent that outdoor activities, such as the Hajj pilgrimage in the summer, will continue to rise,” warns Julian Jerisati, regional project director for Greenpeace.
Saudi Arabia is set to welcome one million Muslim pilgrims next month after two years of epidemic-related restrictions.
“The only solution is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change, and to create a gradual but rapid transition to renewable energy,” he added.
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