Gulf States ‘pushing migrant workers into lethal heatwaves’

Doha (Caasimada Online) – A recent study has painted a grim picture for migrant workers in the Gulf states, uncovering their exposure to potentially lethal temperatures.

The research, entitled ‘Killer Heat,’ was released on Tuesday by the Vital Signs Partnership, a conglomerate of organizations investigating migrant worker fatalities.

The report underlined an alarming situation in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

In these countries, migrant laborers face severe risks of heat-related injuries and ailments. The Gulf region experiences between 100 to 150 days of extreme heat annually, with daily temperatures exceeding 40ºC.

Nicholas McGeehan, co-director of FairSquare, one of the NGOs part of the global partnership, painted an alarming picture of the situation.

“The climate change projections for the Gulf in this report are as horrifying as the personal accounts of the workers exposed to 2023 temperatures in countries like the UAE,” he said.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation, with the report citing research that predicts significant increases in these extreme temperatures.

If global temperatures rise by 1.5%, the UAE will witness a 51% surge in days exceeding 40ºC by 2050. The scenario is more terrifying if global temperatures jump by 3%, resulting in a 98% spike.

Human toll of the heat

The World Health Organisation has warned that such temperatures could trigger “a cascade of illnesses,” including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and hypothermia.

Heartrending stories of affected workers like Ganesh, a Nepalese lifeguard working in the UAE, give a human face to these statistics.

Upon returning to Nepal, Ganesh, diagnosed with kidney failure, recalled the unbearable conditions.

“The ground was so hot I couldn’t touch it barefoot. It would burn my skin. You can’t imagine how hot it was,” he said.

He believes the harsh working conditions and poor living standards contributed to his declining health.

The chronic Kidney disease epidemic

The report identifies growing global concerns over chronic kidney disease.

This fatal loss of kidney function appears more prevalent among those performing physically demanding tasks in high-temperature environments.

A nephrologist in Dhaka, Bangladesh, revealed that he has seen several patients returning from Gulf countries with kidney problems, which he ascribes to heat exposure and dehydration.

The issue has hit home in Nepal, as noted by Rishi Kumar Kafle, chief nephrologist at Nepal’s National Kidney Centre.

“Nepali workers go to the Gulf to earn money but return with kidney disease,” he said, lamenting, “Why are these wealthy Gulf nations not doing anything for these workers?”

Despite laws in Gulf countries that prohibit work during specific hours in the summer, these measures are deemed insufficient by the report.

The researchers recommend adopting a risk-based rather than a calendar-based approach, mandating breaks in shaded areas, and ensuring access to water and chilled food storage.

The report also pushes for free healthcare for low-income migrant workers, regardless of immigration status, and funding healthcare costs for those returning home with chronic kidney disease.

The spotlight on Gulf countries

As the UAE gears up to host Cop28, the UN climate change conference, later this year, it is facing increasing criticism over its climate and human rights record.

The issue of migrant worker welfare has taken center stage, as McGeehan pointed out.

“The UAE and other Gulf states should be prepared to address the appalling impact of their systematic failure to provide basic protection to the people whose labor sustains their extremely wealthy societies,” he emphasized.

The report represents the collaborative effort of numerous NGOs, including the Center for Migrant Advocacy in the Philippines, the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice in Nepal, Justice Project Pakistan, the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Bangladesh, and FairSquare in the UK.

The collective voice of these organizations aims to shed light on a systemic failure to protect vulnerable migrant workers in the Gulf region.