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Heatwave in Nigeria: How to stay cool and alert

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New research has warned that about 204,000 women may die of heat waves in Nigeria, India, and America. Researchers warned that women will bear the brunt of extreme heat as more frequent heat waves on a warming planet pose a growing threat to their work, earnings, and lives.

In countries such as Nigeria, where heat aggravates symptoms of tropical diseases from malaria to yellow fever, mothers bear the burden of looking after themselves and caring for sick family members, with such exertion amounting to hours of unpaid work.

The Nigerian government also issued an advisory on how to cope with the prevailing heat wave in the country after the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) on X, raised the alarm over the weather conditions across the country, “as temperatures hit 41°C over the North and 39°C over the South with model projections indicating temperatures to remain high in the coming days.”

According to the World Metrological Organization, a heat wave is when local excess heat accumulates over sweltering days and nights. It is an extended period of hot weather relative to the expected conditions of the area at that time of year, which may be accompanied by high humidity. 

Heat waves can disrupt daily life and economic activities. Increased energy demand for cooling can strain power grids, while outdoor activities and work may become hazardous. Heat waves can lead to environmental problems like drought, wildfires, and crop failures. The prolonged high temperatures can stress water supplies and increase the risk of forest and grassland fires.

Why do heatwaves happen?

Heat waves are extreme weather events, most common in summer when high pressure develops across an area. These slow-moving systems can persist over an area for days or weeks. Research shows that climate change is making these events more likely.

How do I keep my home cool during a heatwave?

During a heatwave, you should keep your living space cool. Check the room temperature between 08:00 and 10:00, at 13:00 and the night after 22:00. Ideally, the room temperature should be kept below 32 °C during the day and 24 °C at night. This is especially important for infants or adults over the age of 60 or who have chronic health conditions.

At night and early morning when the outside temperature is lower, open all the windows and shutters in your home, during the day, close the windows and shutters (if available), especially those facing the sun during the day. Turn off artificial lighting and as many electrical devices as possible. Hang shades, draperies, awnings, and louvres on windows that receive morning or afternoon sun. Hang wet towels to cool down the room’s air. Note that the humidity of the air increases at the same time.

If your residence is air-conditioned, close the doors and windows and conserve electricity not needed to keep you cool, to ensure that power remains available and reduce the chance of a community-wide outage. Electric fans may provide relief, but when the temperature is above 35 °Co may not prevent heat-related illness. It is important to drink fluids.

Advice for staying safe during a heatwave

To protect yourself during a heatwave, The World Health Organisation advises that people move to the coolest room in the home, especially at night. It is also advised that if it is impossible to keep your home cool, spend 2-3 hours of the day in a cool place (such as an airconditioned public building).

Going outside on the hottest day is also not a good idea. Exposure to high temperatures can lead to various heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps.

Exposure to the sun can also cause heatstroke. This severe condition can be life-threatening, with symptoms including high body temperature, altered mental state, rapid pulse, and hot, dry skin. 

Avoid strenuous physical activity if you can. If you must do it, do it during the coolest part of the day, which usually is in the morning between 04:00 and 07:00. Stay in the shade, and do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles. 

Keeping the body cool during a heatwave 

Take cool showers or baths during a heat wave to keep your body cool and hydrated. You can also use cold packs, wraps, towels, sponging, and foot baths to keep cool. Wear light, loose-fitting clothes made of natural materials.

If you go outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat or cap and sunglasses. Use light bed linen and sheets and no cushions to avoid heat accumulation. Drink regularly, but avoid alcohol, too much caffeine, and sugar. Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein.

What should you do if you are unwell during a heatwave?

If you feel dizzy, weak, anxious, or have intense thirst and headache during a heatwave, it is best to move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature. Then, drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate.

If you have painful muscular spasms (particularly in the legs, arms, or abdomen), rest immediately in a cool place and drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes. Medical attention is needed if heat cramps last more than 1 hour. Consult your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms. 

Conclusion 

The recent heatwave has underscored the urgent need for comprehensive action to address the challenges posed by extreme weather events. Additional resources from WHO and NiMet shed light on preventive measures and ways to stay cool.

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