Tens of millions of Americans have been suffering under a blistering heatwave this week, with temperatures reaching into the high 90s. But they won’t get any sympathy from the people of Baghdad.
The Iraqi capital was the hottest city on the planet Friday — with the mercury hitting an unbearable 120 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The Weather Channel. And it has felt as hot as 159 degrees.
While many in the U.S. would not tolerate the summer season without air conditioning, people in the Iraqi capital say they have to put up with as little as six hours of electricity per day due to power shortages.
“We are forced to accept the reality of living in such conditions, under the burning sun,” 45-year-old salesperson Ammer Mohammed Ali told NBC News.
Ali said he has resorted to taking a shower every 30 minutes to cool down, and has bought a paddling pool so his kids can have some respite in the backyard.
The temperature has been so relentlessly hot this week that the government imposed a four-day mandatory holiday beginning Thursday and urged residents to stay out of the sun.
At its most brutal, the so-called “feels-like” temperature has hit a staggering 159 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The Weather Channel.
Of course for Iraqis, the weather is not their only problem. The battle with ISIS rages less than 50 miles away and there continue to be regular suicide bombings in the city.
And while those who have houses are able to enjoy some air conditioning throughout the day, Iraq has more than 600,000 refugees living in unfinished buildings, shelters and tents, according to the International Organization of Migration.
Many of these people, who have fled ISIS violence or other conflicts such as war-ravaged Syria, are now effectively living on the streets of Baghdad.
“I have a house, I have electricity from the district generator, beside the one I have at home,” said 32-year-old computer-shop worker Mohammed Mustafa. “But what is the situation of those refugees who live in camps?”
But for people like Ali Saleh, a 43-year-old a government employee who works at the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, all he can think about right now is the heat.
“You cannot stand under the sun for few minutes, it is burning out there,” he told NBC News.
The country’s creaking power infrastructure is suffering after years of under-investment and mismanagement.
Like Ali, Saleh said that because of power shortages he was only able to turn on his home’s air conditioning for six-to-eight hours per day. After that he has been forced to resort to generators, which were only able to power a “few electricity devices, like fans and air coolers, not ACs.”
Aside from sheer discomfort, the unrelenting heat brings other concerns.
For 49-year-old drug store owner Assem Moya’ed, the high temperatures have been threatening to damage his pharmaceutical products.
“I have my own big generator in my store, for I have to provide the right environment to protect the medicine from damage because of the increase of temperature,” he told NBC News.
But Moya’ed said he was more concerned about the effect of the weather on the sick and elderly. He said prescriptions for certain medicines, such as asthma relief, has gone up, adding: “I cannot imagine how old people are living now under these conditions.”
What’s more, the dearth of electricity has knock-on effects. Water stations and pumps are not able to function properly and “the increase of heat in Iraq has effected the society and the life of locals in general,” according to Abu Mustafa, a 52-year-old master sergeant in the Iraqi army who is currently on leave.
“Such increase in temperature also is going to cause people to get sick, especially those who had to work in the streets,” he added.”
For many people there is no escape. Computer-shop worker Mustafa said he has resorted to driving around in his car — just to use the vehicle’s air conditioning.
“Sometimes I don’t like to go back home because it is terribly hot when there is no national power,” he said. “I spend time in my car, driving from a place to another in order to stay cool while turning on my car’s AC.”