Impact of Poverty on Coping with Jacobabad’s Heatwave
The city of Jacobabad in Pakistan is currently experiencing a heatwave that is “hotter than the human body can handle,” per Ben Farmer in The Telegraph on June 28, 2021. The temperatures can reach up to 52 degrees Celsius, or nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit. When measured using “wet bulb” techniques, which measure not just heat but humidity, Jacobabad is one of only two places in the world that has crossed a point where humans cannot sweat enough to cool themselves down. Put another way, Jacobabad’s heatwave is something that the human body literally cannot withstand.

Many residents of the city cannot afford air conditioning, and some must venture outside, despite the dangers, because their jobs demand it. Even those who can afford air conditioning are in danger due to frequent power cuts. This means that the impact of poverty on coping with Jacobabad’s heatwave can be life-threatening; the hospitals in the city can fill up with heat-stroke victims during the summer. “People are aware that the heat is getting up and up, but they are poor people. They can’t go anywhere, they can’t leave their places,” Zahid Hussain, a market trader, stated.

New Ways of Keeping Cool

Because of how expensive energy is for many residents, people are finding new ways of keeping cool. For example, roadside stalls sell ice in “10p chunks.” The chunks have been mass-produced in factories across Pakistan; for years as the heat in Jacobabad has continued to rise, so too does the need to escape it. Many markets also sell hand fans, which are far cheaper to produce and buy compared to electric fans.

Hospitals and Energy Access – Solutions

USAID has been active in the city for years, building the Jacobabad Institute of Medical Sciences (JIMS) to provide better medical care. Due to a large number of heatstroke victims, new hospital beds serve as essential assets to the city. The USAID effort also seeks to update infrastructure, building and repairing many health care facilities.

Many organizations are working to combat energy poverty. For example, Sustainable Energy for All (SEForAll) is an organization that works with the United Nations, as well as private companies, to spread energy access to poorer countries. Initiatives address the impact of increasing heat and its possible deadly effects, with SEForAll publishing a story on the Pakistani city of Karachi, which faced similar problems to Jacobabad earlier in 2021. Jacobabad’s heatwave was not a specific focus of the organization; however, by campaigning and advocating for causes similar to it, and trying to bring energy access to cities like it, SEForAll is improving the possibility that Jacobabad’s problems may receive attention.

A New Focus

At the same time, Ben Farmer, when contacted, said there was, to his knowledge, no NGO activity in the city specifically to combat the impact of poverty on coping with Jacobabad’s heatwave. Despite the ingenuity shown by the city’s residents in keeping cool, the problem would still be able to greatly reduce due to foreign aid.

The lack of meaningful aid suggests an unnecessary vacuum in Jacobabad that organizations can fill. While NGO efforts are meaningful, it is key to note that the city’s efforts prioritize citizens and their health. As Jacobabad faces its heat-related challenges head-on, efforts to help must prioritize the people to build on current work toward a safer future.

– Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

Heat in developing countries
Earth is getting warmer every day and the heat in developing countries can be fatal. There are ways to take the edge off – air-conditioned rooms, pools and shade – and make even the hottest days bearable. This is not to say that Americans are completely safe from heat-related deaths – it kills 800 people per year, disproportionately affecting people of color and migrant workers. Although this number may seem small compared to the toll of cancer and strokes, any deaths from overheating are unacceptable. They are easily preventable with proper education and access to the right information and technologies.

The Dangers of Overheating

However, in countries like India and in the deserts of Africa, where temperatures can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the dangers of overheating are everyday realities. The effects of overheating on a population are difficult to measure because overheating exacerbates other diseases. Symptoms affect the heart (causing irregular rhythm), immune system (decreasing white blood cell count) and cause dehydration, which has innumerable other effects. Statisticians estimate that between 1998-2017, over 160,000 people died as a direct result of overheating and heatwaves worldwide. Technologies such as air conditioners would reduce deaths due to heat in developing countries and improve the livelihoods of people. Unfortunately, barriers such as high cost and the unavailability of electricity remain in developing countries. Luckily, several organizations are working to find ways to mitigate these barriers.

Reducing Heat-Induced Deaths

  • The World Health Organization (WHO): WHO already does much to help reduce poverty. It also takes on the challenge of reducing heat in developing countries. WHO looks at how to compactly design buildings with fewer levels to lower cooling costs. It investigates investment into insulation and the positive economic impacts of finding new markets for air conditioning companies. The Maghreb, a region of North Africa, could particularly benefit from an overhaul of cooling systems because of its rich natural resources. This would incentivize more workers to move there, bringing profit to all.
  • Rocky Mountain Institute: RMI aims to reduce the effect of air conditioners on the environment. These environmental effects often impact poorer communities in particular. Typical AC units run on electricity provided by fossil fuels. These fossil fuels warm the planet, creating a positive feedback loop. Providing everyone with access to air conditioners, therefore, as many organizations are doing, may not be enough. People also need to stop organizations from warming the earth and increasing demand even further. The institute concluded that the world needs units that are at least five times as powerful as they are now while using the same amount of energy, and electricity that comes from either solar panels or wind turbines.

Keeping people safe from the real danger of heat in developing countries is a necessary step to increasing productivity and saving lives. Fortunately, heat-related deaths are preventable if well-equipped countries assist third world economies to start producing the technologies that people need, such as air conditioners.

Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr