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Migrant workers suffer most in Kuwait’s extreme heat

On August 26, 2021

A recent World Health Organisation report says heat exposure is already killing people in countries like Kuwait, where temperatures are reaching unprecedented levels, and that ‘migrant workers are a group that is particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures.’

The report, authored by Barrak Alahmad, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Mary A. Fox, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, examines how extreme temperatures in the past decade have already exacerbated mortality and identified vulnerable subpopulations in hot countries like Kuwait. 

"Migrant workers often fall short from protection by public policies, they take precarious jobs with unsafe working and living conditions and they grapple with cultural and linguistic barriers. They are more likely to take more demanding labour and hence get higher exposure to outdoor heat," Alahmad states.

On health impacts, the researchers saw double or triple the risk of deaths on extremely hot days. People with existing heart conditions were at a higher risk of dying. “More devastation is seen when the migrant worker population was carefully examined for the effects of extreme heat in Kuwait. Non-Kuwaiti males, who make up the majority of outdoor workers, were disproportionately affected by extreme hot temperatures, with the risk of dying being three times higher during extreme heat compared to optimum temperatures,” the report highlights.  

The researchers warn with climate change further intensifying heatwaves over the next decades, the health gap between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis is set to widen. "The warming of our planet is unevenly distributed. Regions that are inherently hot, like Kuwait and the Gulf, are witnessing soaring temperatures unlike ever before. Public health policies and interventions need to be responsive to the subpopulations most vulnerable to heat in the region,” Fox says.

The full report can be read here.

Poor policies

Gulf countries do not adequately safeguard workers from heat stress. As previously reported, the midday summer work bans are mostly arbitrary and poorly designed. Several Gulf countries registered record-breaking high temperatures this summer. In the UAE, record temperatures up to 51.8 °C were registered before the summer work ban even kicked in. Bahrain, which has the shortest summer work ban in the Gulf, running only from July to August, recorded its hottest May in more than a century. Temperatures have soared so high that Civil Defence authorities have stepped up awareness campaigns to ensure residents take safety measures to protect against fire hazards and heat. Nevertheless, migrant workers continue to labour outdoors in the peak of the afternoon heat.