Muslims struggle to reconcile fasting and working outside in temperatures exceeding 35C. Heatwaves are becoming more common.
Ashish Jangid is an ordained Hindu who works in the construction industry in Saudi Arabia. He has mixed feelings about Ramadan.
“Work is lighter during Ramadan and just in the evenings because even the management is relaxed. But when I work fewer hours, I get paid less too,” says the Indian migrant worker. “I am also worried about what it will be like after Ramadan because we will work in the daytime again until July. It is going to be really hot.”
It is not unusual for daily temperatures to top 35C and a high of 45C was recorded in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra region last week. Climate change is increasing heatwaves in urban centers across the Arabian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.
Ramadan started on 2 April this year and will last 28 to 29 days depending on the moon. Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset, approximately 14 hours for those who live in Saudi Arabia. This means that there is no drinking or eating, even water.
A review of weather station data from March 2020 shows that some areas of the UAE have exceeded the temperature threshold that the body can withstand. Ras al Khaimah sometimes recorded wet bulb temperatures as high as 35C. This is when the body can no longer cool itself by sweating.
The region’s oil-rich countries have a greater capacity to deal with extreme climates because they live in air-conditioned indoor environments. This is especially true for the large number of migrant workers who are already subject to long work hours, wage theft, unsuitable living spaces, and other challenges.
To protect these workers, all Gulf countries prohibit outdoor work during the hottest hours of the day, but this is limited to the summer season, which doesn’t officially begin till mid-June. Outdoor work is prohibited during this period, and it ends between noon and 3 or 4pm depending on where you are located.
Jangid and other workers are at risk because temperatures rise before the summer season begins, creating a serious health hazard.
A 2019 heatwave in the region in early June – before the official start of the summer – recorded the highest temperature on Earth, 63C in direct sunlight. Kuwait saw at least one death from heatstroke among outdoor workers.
A Guardian investigation revealed that hundreds of migrant workers are killed each year in Qatar by heat stress.
“There’s a serious correlation between heat and the physical and mental health of an individual,” says Mahaa K Raja, a Pakistani doctor based in Saudi Arabia. “The detrimental outcomes can translate into heat exhaustion or something as serious as a heat stroke. Symptoms may range from feeling queasy, minor irritability, dizziness to delusions, irrational behaviour, hallucinations, and coma.”
People with a pre-existing mental illness, particularly psychosis, have a two to three times higher risk of death during heatwaves than people without, according to a report by Imperial College’s Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
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Ahmed Mohsin, a food delivery rider, says that he has been emotionally distressed trying to take care of his health in Dubai’s current climate while working outdoors, with peak temperatures of 34-37C.
Mohsin is a Muslim devout but he was unable to fast this Ramadan.
“I did first the first three days but I was feeling so dizzy and like I would faint. I wasn’t able to drive,” he says. “And if fasting gets in the way of your health, God orders you to not fast. God is merciful.”
He is in his early twenties and says that the long hours he’s had as a delivery driver for the past four years have really affected his health. “Last summer I fainted a few times and I am also always feeling very tired and get headaches a lot. I haven’t seen a doctor but I know I am not in good health.”
Mohsin is not paid a fixed salary, but he does get around $2.60 for each delivery.
He and his family back in Lahore (Pakistan) must keep up with an excessive amount of orders each day.
People like Jangid Mohsin and Jangid will be working in unsafe conditions as a result of climate change-related heat extremes.
“The Arab world is a highly sensitive area to climate change and policymakers need to make sure climate is a priority agenda,” says Lina Yassin, a Sudanese climate activist.
A Report on the effects of climate change in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA).Global climate projections indicate that there will be an intensification in summer heat extremes within the region.
“These events involve excessively high temperatures (up to 56C and higher) and will be of extended duration, being potentially life-threatening for humans,” the report notes.
“By the end of the century, about half of the MENA population (approximately 600 million) could be exposed to annually recurring super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves.”
According to the World Bank in the Middle East, capital cities could experience four months of extreme heat each year.
Source: Climate Change News