Mothers Suffer in Hottest City on Earth

19 June 2022

Last month, a city in Pakistan became the hottest city on Earth. On May 14 in Jacobabad, temperatures hit 51 degrees Celsius. About 200,000 people live there. They understand well that they live in one of the hottest places on the planet.

Pregnant women living there are especially likely to suffer under the extreme heat.

Sonari, who is pregnant and in her 20s, works under the burning sun in a field of yellow melons. "When the heat is coming and we're pregnant, we feel stressed," said Sonari.

Heavily Pregnant, Sonari, collects muskmelons during a heatwave, at a farm on the outskirts of Jacobabad, Pakistan, May 17, 2022. When the heat is coming and we're pregnant, we feel stressed, said Sonari. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro )
Heavily Pregnant, Sonari, collects muskmelons during a heatwave, at a farm on the outskirts of Jacobabad, Pakistan, May 17, 2022. "When the heat is coming and we're pregnant, we feel stressed," said Sonari. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro )

Sonari's 17-year-old neighbor, Waderi, gave birth a few weeks ago. She is already back working in extreme heat. She places her newborn baby on a nearby blanket so she can feed him when he cries. Waderi makes sure her baby is out of the hot sun.

Sonari, Waderi and other pregnant women in southern Pakistan are living through the effects of climate change.

Complications from heat exposure

Pregnant women living in extreme heat for long periods of time have a higher risk of suffering complications. That was the finding of an examination of 70 studies done on the issue in the past 25 years.

For every 1 degree Celsius the temperature rises, the examination found, the number of stillbirths and premature deliveries increases by about 5 percent.

The findings of the study analysis were published in the British Medical Journal in September 2020. The analysis was carried out by several research organizations worldwide.

Cecilia Sorensen is director of the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education at Columbia University in New York. She said the effects of climate change on the health of women are not fully examined or known.

The heat, she added, "is a super big deal for pregnant women."

Experts say that women in poor countries are especially at risk to rising temperatures. Many have little choice but to work through their pregnancies and return to work soon after giving birth.

Women in places like socially conservative Pakistan usually cook food for the family over hot stoves or open fires. They often do the cooking in small rooms with no fresh air or cooling devices. This adds to the heat risk.

Extreme humid heat events

South Asia has suffered unseasonably hot temperatures in recent months. An extreme heatwave that hit Pakistan and India in April was 30 times more likely to happen due to climate change. That estimate is from scientists at World Weather Attribution, an international research organization.

Experts there also say that worldwide temperatures have risen by about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. As temperatures continue to rise, extreme heatwaves are only expected to increase.

Humid weather brings more difficulties. Humid means having a lot of moisture in the air. The more humid it is, the harder it is for people to cool down by sweating.

On May 14, when the temperature in Jacobabad hit 51 degrees Celsius, a young mother named Nazia fell to the ground while making lunch for visiting cousins. Nazia was taken to a nearby hospital, but she did not survive. Doctors said her death was caused by a suspected heat stroke. Her kitchen had no cooling devices.

In the melon fields about 10 kilometers from the center of Jacobabad, Sonari and Waderi work alongside other women. Several of them are also pregnant.

They begin each work day at 6 in the morning. They have a short mid-day break before returning to the field to work until sundown.

"It feels like no one sees them ... no one cares about them," aid worker Liza Khan said about the problems facing many women in Jacobabad.

Khan's phone rings often as she drives to one of three heatstroke response centers. She helped set up the centers in recent weeks as part of her work with a non-profit group called the Community Development Foundation.

She returned to her hometown because she wanted to be a voice for women in the conservative area.

"Nowadays, I'm working 24/7," said the 22-year-old. She added that her organization is finding the impact of extreme heat mixes more and more with other social and health issues affecting women.

No water, no power, we pray

In one neighborhood in Jacobabad, a donkey-drawn cart brings water containers to people's homes. Most residents there depend on such water deliveries. They can cost between a fifth and an eighth of a family's total earnings. Still, the water deliveries often are not enough. Some families are forced to ration their water.

Local officials said water shortages were partly due to electricity cuts. This means water cannot be cleaned and sent through pipes throughout the city. There are also severe water shortages across the Sindh area of Pakistan.

A woman named Rubina cooks over an open fire. She said when she feels sick from the heat, she wants to use water to prevent herself from fainting. However, there is not always enough water to do so.

Rubina said most of the time the water runs out "before it's time to buy more." So, she and her family must wait, she said. She closely watches as her children and grandchildren share a cup of water.

"On the hot days with no water, no electricity, we wake up and the only thing we do is pray to God."

I'm Anna Matteo.

Charlotte Greenfield and Gloria Dickie reported this story for Reuters news agency. Anna Matteo adapted the story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

stressed – adj. subjected to or affected by strain or pressure

complication – n. a secondary disease or condition that develops in the course of a primary disease or condition and arises either as a result of it or from independent causes

premature – adj. happening, arriving, existing, or performed before the proper, usual, or intended time

analysis – n. a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features : a thorough study

level – n. position in a scale or rank (as of achievement, significance, or value)

kitchen – n. a place (such as a room) with cooking facilities

response – v. something constituting a reply or a reaction: such as

resident – n. living in a place for some length of time

ration – v. o control the amount an individual can use of a resource such as food, water, or fuel