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"In the intense heat of west Africa, time seems to slow down, but we must still persevere."
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“In the intense heat of west Africa, time seems to slow down, but we must still persevere.”


A recent study on attribution has reaffirmed the connection between the ongoing climate change and the heightened heatwave in the Gulf of Guinea, where temperatures have reached 50C (122F). What is the most effective method for managing such extreme heat?

Tarly, a carpenter who is 52 years old, has witnessed his coworkers pass out from the high temperatures in his hometown of Abobo in Ivory Coast over the past few months. He shared, “The initial thing I do when I wake up is take a shower. However, by the time I board the gbakka [a commonly used minibus in the city], I’m already sweating and it continues throughout the afternoon.”

Even though he doesn’t take designated breaks to cool down at work, he mentions that his coworkers sometimes take short breaks to have coffee or tea.

This year, west Africa was hit by a searing heatwave, with the most severe heat occurring from 11-15 February, and temperatures peaking above 40C and averaging 36C.

Accra, Ghana. or

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The high humidity added to the difficulty of cooling down through sweating. The heat index, which factors in both temperature and humidity to determine how hot it feels, reached 50C. Izidine Pinto, a weather and climate extremes researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, stated that this can be extremely hazardous for the human body.

Ibrahim, an official from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, stated that the February heatwave occurred earlier than usual, causing people to not be adjusted to the hot temperatures. As the earth continues to warm, these heatwaves will become increasingly intense.

Last month, the Earth experienced the warmest February on record, marking the ninth consecutive month that this record has been surpassed. The rise in carbon emissions and the return of the El Niño weather pattern have contributed to the unusually high temperatures.

Weather agencies in Nigeria and Ghana released advisories regarding the elevated temperatures, but several other affected nations failed to take precautions against hazardous heat.

Maja Vahlberg, a risk analyst at the Climate Centre of the Red Cross Red Crescent, stated that heat is often underestimated, but it poses a serious threat as it silently takes lives. The elderly, those with preexisting health issues, and individuals who work outside are particularly at risk. As a result, approximately half of West Africa’s population resides in makeshift housing, making them highly susceptible to extreme temperatures.

People separate cocoa beans at a farm in San Pedro, western Ivory Coast

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In February, farmers in Ivory Coast expressed concerns about the detrimental effects of high temperatures and insufficient rainfall on their crops. According to a report by Reuters, cocoa factories in both Ivory Coast and Ghana halted or decreased production in March, citing financial strain due to the expensive cost of cocoa beans. The cost of cocoa beans has skyrocketed to a record-breaking amount of over $8,000 per tonne, which is more than triple the price from March of last year.

A recent report from the World Weather Attribution team revealed that the current heatwave, which occurred approximately every 100 years in a world unaffected by the climate crisis, has now become a more frequent occurrence happening roughly every 10 years due to a rise of 1.2C in global temperatures over the past four years.

The high temperatures impacted a large population, yet the exact count of fatalities and illnesses cannot be determined due to inadequate documentation. The World Weather Attribution report utilized weather data and climate projections to assess the frequency and severity of the heatwave in today’s warming world compared to a hypothetical world without global warming, a widely used methodology in numerous studies.

Tarly’s next-door resident also struggled with the high heat. According to filmmaker Richard Lamah, they had to make adjustments to their filming schedules due to the hot weather.

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Previously, we would begin shooting from six to nine in the morning, but now it is no longer feasible as the sun becomes unbearable by 9am,” he explained. His coworkers have now started working indoors with proper ventilation and also take breaks to cool down and even shower during the shoot.

In the comfort of his home, the situation remained unchanged. He expressed, “My children and I cannot rest peacefully due to the sweltering temperature. It feels as though there is no ventilation.”

A street market in Lagos, Nigeria.

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In the city of Lagos, which is the largest in Nigeria, individuals continued to face challenges with the elevated temperatures, even after the intensity of the heatwave decreased. Yussuf, a local, expressed, “It’s extremely challenging to function. I am constantly feeling dehydrated, constantly having to pause and drink water.”

The heat is affecting his work because he “doesn’t have the same strength to go out for walks”, and his job involves travelling around the country and conducting field visits.

Tarly, from Ivory Coast, stated: “The only option I have is to open the windows and door to allow for air circulation, however, the air still remains stagnant.”

He resides with a toddler who becomes restless at night due to the heat, as well as his two adolescent daughters who interrupt their sleep to take a shower before returning to bed and seeking relief from the heat with a fan. Despite their efforts, the heat persists and cannot be ignored.

Tarly said that 4 AM is the least hot and most comfortable time to sleep, but unfortunately, they have to wake up to go to work. They also mentioned that when it’s hot and humid, time seems to slow down.

Source: theguardian.com