South Asian workers in Gulf fear rising temperature

Nepali workers gather at Tarbar Gate in Qatar
Image caption Nepali workers gather at Tarbar Gate in Qatar Qatar where they wait to get hired

Global warming has left millions of migrant workers in Gulf states increasingly worried that they might have to leave if the region becomes hotter, their leaders have said.

Some 1.5 million workers migrate from South Asia to the Gulf every year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

There is growing concern among mainly outdoor labourers that working conditions may become impossible in the future if the temperature continues to rise at its current rate.

A recent study said heat waves would make several places in the Gulf impossible for human survival if climate change was unchecked.

During the summer, the temperature in many parts of the Gulf already reaches 50C.

Soaring temperatures

For five months every year no outdoor work can be done during late mornings and early afternoons due to excessive heat, members of the migrant workers' community said.

"For outdoor labourers it would be a matter of life and death if temperatures continued to rise," said Maksud Alam, leader of the Nepalese migrant workers' community in Qatar.

"Under such circumstances people will be compelled to go back home but that would also mean losing jobs."

Image caption A Nepali shop assistant in Qatar who is working there to send money home

A leader of the Indian workers' community in the region, who did not want to be named, agreed.

"We come here with a mindset that it would be very hot but there will be a limit and we all are worried what happens when that point is crossed."

Money sent home by these workers mean a huge source of income for their countries.

Mr Alam said the issue of rising heat was discussed during a recent meeting of migrant workers' communities from different countries.

"The majority of the workers are not conscious of global warming or the ongoing Paris climate talks but they are well aware that the heat is going up and that is enough to keep them worried."

Impossible to live?

A recent study by scientists with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said several coastal cities in the Gulf would not be inhabitable because of unbearable heat if the global temperature continued to rise at its present rate.

"Our results expose a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future," the authors of the study wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Image copyright AP

The world is already nearly one degree Celsius warmer compared to the pre-industrial period.

Scientists say if the warming crosses two degrees, climate change impacts including sea level rise, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods, landslides, among others, will become uncontrollable.

West and Central Asia have observed between 0.4 and 2.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The UN scientific body has predicted temperatures to increase on average by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius by as early as 2046 in the region, with the most warming in the central areas including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

The IPCC has also said that the highest daily maximum temperature in the region will increase by 4 to 7 degrees Celsius.

No official figures

Media reports quoting the Indian and Nepalese embassy in Qatar say at least 1,200 workers from the two countries have died in the Gulf state since 2010.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A construction boom followed Qatar's successful bid for the World Cup

How many of them died because of excessive heat is not known.

Leaders of workers communities say heart attacks caused by the high temperature are common.

"Headache and skin coming off are common problems I face working in the scorching sun," said Taleswar Sah from Nepal, who works as a goat shepherd in Qatar's desert area bordering Saudi Arabia.

"If it is already like this, we fear what might happen when the heat goes further up?"

Harun Rashid from India's Bihar state said tree plantations in recent years had helped a bit but the trend of temperature rise seemed to be undermining that solution.

"As a camel herder I spend most of my time in the desert and the rising heat frustrates me during summer time. And I am constantly thinking, 'will it mean I will have to go back?'"

Other members of the migrant workers community said the issue was even more pressing for those working in the construction sector.

"Those involved in scaffolding have more cases of heart attacks and fainting as they have to bear with more heat working higher from the ground," said a worker from Bangladesh who did not want to be named.

While migrant workers are increasingly concerned about the rising temperature, many of their host countries have been criticised for slowing the UN climate negotiations all these years, a charge they deny.

Since these countries are oil producers, there are allegations that they would block any deal that would keep their petroleum products in the ground.

Some of these countries, however, have embarked on development of renewable energies as well.

Qatar hosts 1.4 million migrant workers, with Nepalis and Indians accounting for 60% of this total.

It will host the 2022 World Cup and is ramping up its construction industry but was unavailable for comment at the Cop21 talks in Paris.

A Gulf official, who was not authorised to speak publicly, said the rising temperature was a global issue just like other climate change impacts such as floods and droughts.

"We are trying our best to achieve energy efficiency but this is a global challenge and everyone will have to take action," the official said.

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