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Too hot for the human body: hottest city on Earth could become new normal



As the full midsummer heat hits Pakistan’s Jacobabad, the city retreats inside as if sheltering from a terror attack

The city of Jacobabad in Pakistan has sweltered through intense heat for years. And experts say that temperatures will only rise in the coming years.

As summer approaches, the streets become deserted and residents hide from the scorching sun.

Very few local residents have air conditioning or any forms of house cooling to provide any relief from the temperatures which can reach 52 degrees.

Distributing water throughout the city. In the city of Jacobabad.

‘When it gets that hot, you can’t even stay on your feet’

In more wealthy Arabic countries such as Dubai, electricity and air conditioning are plentiful. Here, the heat threshold may have little effect on residents.

In Jacobabad, where many live on wages of only a couple of pounds a day, residents must find other ways to adapt to the rising heat levels and the changes in climate.

Often, the heat gets so extreme that blackouts occur, and so even those that do have an AC won’t be able to use it.

Many people who live in the village must withstand the heat to bring income. The residents in the village say that when it gets that hot, you can’t even stay on your feet.

These same workers often end up filling hospital beds as they suffer from extreme heatstroke.

Scientists say Jacobabad is particularly vulnerable to climate change

Around 200,000 people live in Jacobabad, which is located in Pakistan’s Sindh province. It has long been renowned for its fierce heat, but recent research has come to an unwelcome conclusion.

Its mixture of heat and humidity has made it one of only two places on Earth to have now officially passed a threshold hotter than the human body can withstand.

Climate experts consider the region to be one of the world’s most vulnerable places to climate change. Now, experts are raising concerns that Jacobabad’s temperatures may increase further, or other cities may join the club.

On the outskirt of Jacobabad.

A threshold hotter than the human body can withstand

Researchers have examined the temperatures in the Pakistani city, and say as the heat rises, the impacts to humans can potentially be devastating.

The researchers examined ‘wet bulb temperatures’, by taking a thermometer covered in a water-soaked cloth. This takes both heat and humidity into account.

Wet-bulb thermometer readings are significantly lower than the more familiar dry bulb readings, which do not take humidity into account. Researchers say that at a wet-bulb reading of 35C, the body can no longer cool itself by sweating.

Such a temperature can be fatal in a few hours, even to the fittest people. Jacobabad crossed the 35C wet-bulb threshold in July 1987, then again in June 2005, June 2010 and July 2012.

Each of those occurrences may have only happened for a few hours at a time, but a three-day average maximum temperature has been recorded hovering around 34C in June 2010, June 2001, and July 2012. The dry bulb temperature is often over 50C in the summer.

What is the solution?

Jacobabad’s crown for unsurvivable temperatures may conjure pictures of Death Valley-like deserts, but it is an agricultural hub fed by irrigation canals.

Stretches of the town’s bazaar are dedicated to keeping cool. Shops sell electric fans and low-tech washing machine-sized coolers that emit a refreshing mist.

But electrical solutions such as powered air conditioners and fan units are deemed useless by frequent power cuts. In the city centre, residents often lose power for three or four hours, while in more rural areas the blackouts are much longer.

Many adults and children swim in rivers as a means to cool down, but humidity levels at night too often make for uncomfortable rest.

As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift, difficulties with farming, irrigation, disease and labour are predicted by 2050 and will hurt people’s quality of living in parts of Pakistan.

Anthony Lucas is reporter, presenter and social media producer with ticker News. Anthony holds a Bachelor of Professional Communication, with a major in Journalism from RMIT University as well as a Diploma of Arts and Entertainment journalism from Collarts. He’s previously worked for 9 News, ONE FM Radio and Southern Cross Austerio’s Hit Radio Network. 

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