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