The worlds hottest city becoming unliveable as even the streets have aircon

Global heatwave continues to break record temperatures

On July 21, 2016, the Mitribah weather station in northern Kuwait registered a temperature of 54C (129F) – the third-highest reading in the world. The blistering Cerberus Heatwave Europe has just endured would hardly have raised an eyebrow in the Middle Eastern country.

A little smaller than Wales and with a population of roughly 4.4 million people, it has the seventh-largest oil reserves in the world and has amassed no small fortune exploiting them over the past century.

Aside from liquid gold and the 1990 invasion by its northern neighbour Iraq – one entirely following from the other – Kuwait is known for its heat. Gauges breached 50C (122F) for 19 days in 2021, a record that could be smashed this year.

As the country gets hotter at a faster rate than the global average, climate scientists now predict temperatures there will be up 5.5C (42F) by the end of the century relative to the 2000s.

The concrete and asphalt capital, Kuwait City, is becoming unlivable, and the locals know why. Speaking to AFP, date merchant Abdullah Ashkanani said the country’s excessive energy consumption had “brought this heat to Kuwait.”

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Annual rainfall has been dropping in the already arid country, the frequency and intensity of dust storms increasing as a result.

Reports claim birds have dropped dead from the sky and seahorses have boiled in the bay – but it’s not just nature at risk. The smartest pigeons huddle together in the shade.

Halfway to water’s boiling point and 13C (55F) above body temperature, beyond being unhealthy, 50C is dangerous to humans as well. Prolonged exposure can result in heat exhaustion, cardiovascular problems and even death.

This year, for the first time, the Kuwaiti government has issued an edict allowing funerals to be conducted at night.

Once a thriving trade and fishing hub dubbed the “Marseilles of the Gulf”, the discovery of oil in the 1930s has since come to define Kuwait City.

The oil-rich and others who can afford it these days rarely venture outdoors, preferring the comfort of air conditioning in their homes, offices or local malls. 

There is now an entire indoor shopping street, lined with palm trees and European-style boutiques.

According to a 2020 study, fully two-thirds (67 per cent) of total electricity consumption in residences is thought to come from air conditioning units running all day, every day. 

Joshua Wood, writing in ExpatsExchange, notes the “high quality of life” in a country that is “modern, luxurious and safe”, yet cautions that it is “very hot from May through September” and “insanely hot” in June, July and August.

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This isn’t to say the streets are deserted, however. Migrant workers, predominantly from Arab, South and South East Asian countries, make up roughly 70 percent of the country’s population.

Thanks to a controversial kafala system, people flock to Kuwait to make a living in construction or domestic services. They line the streets and fill the sweltering public buses of the capital.

Research published by the Institute of Physics last year found migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to adverse health effects from heat exposure. 

By the end of the century, it claims, climate change could increase the number of heat-related deaths by 5.1 per cent to 11.7 per cent across the whole population, but by up to 15 per cent for non-Kuwaitis. 

Environmental warnings generally fall on deaf ears. At 25 tonnes of CO2 per capita per year, Kuwaitis have the third-largest carbon footprint in the world, behind only Bahrain and Qatar.

However, while peers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have made net-zero pledges for the coming decades, Kuwait’s COP26 promise was to curtail emissions by a measly 7.4 per cent by 2035.

Energy demand will triple by 2030, according to Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity and Water, with an expected rise in indoor cooling usage likely to blame. Up to 95 per cent of Kuwaitis’ electricity costs are subsidised by the government, so individuals have little incentive to cut back.

It’s a similar story for water, 99 per cent of which comes from energy-intensive desalination.

To put it mildly, Salman Zafar wrote for EcoMENA that: “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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