Inside the world’s hottest city where fish boil in the sea and birds fall from the sky

By Staff

Kuwait City, the world’s hottest city, has been branded ‘unliveable’ as temperatures continue to soar – with the coast so hot it can boil sea creatures to death

Birds fall from the sky and fish boil in the sea in the world’s hottest city.

One doesn’t have to be an ardent environmentalist to see existential warning signs in Kuwait City. The Middle Eastern settlement is an intense place to be in a kind of Old Testament way. Once upon a time, Kuwait City was known as the “Marseilles of the Gulf”, with a booming fishing industry and coastal spots that attracted flushed sun worshippers.

However, just like many of Britain’s seaside towns, this hub has seen better days in recent years – but for reasons that would seem strange to anyone who has braved a chilly walk on one of the UK’s beauty spots. Where the Victorian glamour in parts of the UK’s coast has been replaced with penny arcades and battered shop fronts, Kuwait City has simply become far too hot.

On 21 July 2016, the Mitribah weather station in northern Kuwait recorded a temperature of 54C (129F) – the third-highest reading in the world. The recent scorching Cerberus Heatwave in Europe wouldn’t have caused much fuss in this Middle Eastern country, which bested Europe’s highs by 10C.

Climate scientists are warning that the country is heating up faster than the rest of the world, with temperatures predicted to rise by 5.5C (10F) by the end of the century compared to the 2000s. In 2021, temperatures soared above 50C (122F) for 19 days, a record that could be broken this year.

Kuwait City, a place made mostly of unforgiving concrete and asphalt, is becoming too hot to live in safely. For much of the day in the summer outside is a dangerous place. Scientific data also shows that the already dry country is getting less rain each year, leading to more frequent and intense dust storms.

There have been shocking reports of birds falling dead from the sky and seahorses boiling in the bay. Even the hardiest pigeons are seeking shade from the ferocity of the sun.

Temperatures of 50C are not just uncomfortable, they’re dangerous. They’re 13C (55F) above body temperature and can cause serious health problems like heat exhaustion, heart issues and even death if people are exposed for too long.

For the first time ever, the Kuwaiti government has allowed funerals to be held at night this year because of the extreme heat.

Nowadays, those who are rich enough to afford it rarely go outside, choosing instead to stay in the cool comfort of their air-conditioned homes, offices or shopping centres. The current conditions have led to the construction of science-fiction like infrastructure. One instance is an indoor shopping street filled with palm trees and European-style shops, providing a refuge for customers from the harsh weather.

A 2020 study showed that roughly two-thirds (67 per cent) of total home electricity use in residences comes from air conditioning units operating non-stop. Joshua Wood wrote in ExpatsExchange about the “high quality of life” in this “modern, luxurious and safe” country, but warned that the heat can be “very hot from May through September” and become “insanely hot” in June, July and August.

Despite the heat, the streets are far from empty. Migrant workers, mainly from Arab, South and South East Asian nations, makeup about 70% of the country’s population. Many people are enticed by the controversial kafala system to move to Kuwait and work in sectors like construction or household services. These workers populate the steaming public buses of the capital city and crowd the streets.

Some research from last year by the Institute of Physics highlighted that migrant workers can be especially susceptible to negative health outcomes because of exposure to harsh temperatures. The research suggests that by the century’s end, climate change could cause heat-related deaths to rise by 5.1% to 11.7% across the entire population, and even by up to 15% among non-Kuwaiti individuals.

Warnings about the planet often are ignored, yet in Kuwait where the ravages of climate change are already clear to see – the carbon footprint is massive – only Bahrain and Qatar’s is higher.

While neighbouring countries have pledged to make big reductions in emissions, Kuwait’s promises pale in comparison. At COP26 the country said it would only reduce emissions by a little bit (7.4%) by 2035. Demand for energy is going to get bigger (three times bigger) by 2030, Kuwaiti government officials have predicted. Most of this is because of the expected increase in using cooling systems indoors.

Since much of the cost of electricity is paid for by the government, people don’t feel the need to limit its use. There is a similar set up with water, which comes from procedures that use a lot of energy.

One expert of environmental issues, Salman Zafar, wrote: “Kuwait could be potentially facing serious impacts of global warming in the form of floods, droughts, depletion of aquifers, inundation of coastal areas, frequent sandstorms, loss of biodiversity, significant damage to ecosystem, threat to agricultural production and outbreak of diseases.”

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