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Iraq sends workers home as 'ungodly' heat grips Middle East

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Power networks struggle in Baghdad and building work halted in Riyadh, while high humidity affects coastal cities

While Europe battles with a heatwave named Lucifer, the Middle East is enduring a summer so brutal that even those accustomed to Baghdad’s searing August weather are labelling it “ungodly”.

As temperatures rose towards 51C (124F) on Thursday, Iraq’s government declared a mandatory holiday, allowing civil servants to shelter at home.

So far this month in the Iraqi capital, every day but one has reached 48C or higher, and the forecast is for the high temperatures to continue for the next week.

July was little different, in Iraq and in Syria, where the capital, Damascus, has also been several degrees hotter than usual nearly every day since late June.

In Kuwait, where birds have reportedly dropped from the skies, and Riyadh, where building work has ceased this week, locals have called for mercy from a hotter-than-normal air mass that has remained nearly stationary over central Arabia for more than three weeks, stretching the capacity of electricity networks beyond limits.

While the centre of the region is being scorched, on the Mediterranean coast Beirut and Istanbul have also been blighted by a cruel summer – in their cases, extreme humidity that has made comparatively modest daytime temperatures seem far higher.

In Baghdad, the perennially underfunded state power network has again failed to cope with the annual onslaught, as demand for power for air conditioners and water coolers far exceeds the capacity to supply it.

People swim in the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra to beat the heat
People swim in the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra to beat the heat. Photograph: Nabil al-Jurani/AP

“We had the day off today,” said Mohanad, from central Baghdad. “The heat is ungodly. The generator in my neighbourhood that provides electricity for about 300 houses has caught fire from the heat. All it generates is smoke.

“We don’t know what to do. Men can go to the pool here but what do we do with our women, elderly and our babies? Even the ACs in the car aren’t working properly. It’s over 53 degrees today.

“It’s disgusting. The government cannot do anything to help us even if they tried; the electricity generators were built in the 1960s and haven’t been changed or modified since. They can’t stand against this heat. We are a poor folk, the Iraqis, it’s hell, it’s misery. Do not be surprised if you hear on the news about people dying from the heat. We’ve never witnessed such a summer before.”

Salam al-Saade, from the eastern suburb of Mashtal, said: “The heat is unbearable. Everyone around me is so sick of it. We are going to the pool and sending our kids there from the morning till night-time to cool off a little. A lot of people are suffering from headaches.

“The government is not going to help us in any way. We get 12 hours of national electricity a day but it is not consecutive. It comes for two hours then cuts off. When it does cut off we generate our own and pay for it. This year is the worst we’ve seen.”

In Lebanon, Faysal al-Banna, the chief of ground observation for Beirut’s meteorological department said: “We definitely do not have it as bad as Iraq and other places. Today it is 30 degrees but we feel it’s much hotter because of the humidity. It’s the humidity from hell, it’s on fire this year. I guarantee you the next few days will be worse.”

Additional reporting by Nadia al-Faour

 

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