By Cosmas Omegoh and Olakunle Olafioye
Every February to March, the weather condition in Nigeria is usually hot. But this year, the weather appears to have taken a new turn. In February, suddenly the harmattan set in for some days, which ushered in March with severe heat. The extraordinary rising temperature levels are now making people edgy.
Just before midday each day, for instance, the sun is already up, beating down savagely and forcing mean daily temperature in some places climbing above 40 degrees C. This condition is driving many crazy, leaving everyone perspiring profusely, with rivulets of sweat cascading down – whether one is in the sun or away from it.
No one is spared from this severe impact of the stressful weather. At night time, things don’t fare better. They get worse. Many without power supply or their airconditioners on hardly sleep. Some are forced to stay outdoors till late in the night – just to cool off. Everyone is wondering what is going on.
Now, two experts, Prof Didiacus John Njoku and Mr Oluwafemi Akinbode have been explaining why this is happening.
At the same time, medical experts, Dr Abayomi Ogunbekun and Dr Douglas Nkemdilim, are warning that this new weather condition can be potentially harmful and might be deadly for some people.
Accordingly, the duo have proffered solutions to help the citizenry to stay safe. It is like a new set of commandment which everyone has to obey to stay alive: you must drink plenty of water every day and eat lots of fruits. You must bathe frequently to keep the body temperature within normal levels. You must as much as possible, stay away from the sun. Being in the sun might be dangerous for the albinos; they risk skin cancer.
The heat wave
Mr. Akinbode who is the director, Corporate Accountability, Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth, attested that there is a significant change in weather across the country at the moment.
“If you study the weather pattern in Nigeria,” he said, “you will discover that there have been noticeable changes in terms of what we know about rainfall months, harmattan months and the rest of them.
“We used to know that planting of certain crops starts around February while harvesting starts around May, but there have been noticeable changes about these.
“All these are pointing to the noticeable changes in the climate, and that climate change is real.”
Why explaining how the world arrived at this crossroads, Prof Njoku of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), an expert in Environment said: “What is happening now is the climate change we are talking about. It implies variation in the normal climatic condition of an area. The climate is varying and when this continues over a length of time, it becomes change. It varies in a short time and changes in a long time.
“Right now, even in Owerri, the temperature is extremely hot – unbearably hot.
“The reason for this is simple. There is variation in the weather/climate of every locality in the world; but people think it is a ruse.
“Now, the issue is that human activities are endangering the very existence of human lives both in the urban and rural areas. Humans have become the enemies to themselves.
“First, we have the issue of rising population. If you measure the inter-distance between homes, you will notice that it is rapidly decreasing. Take the number of people per a room in every locality, you will notice a sharp rise.
“The implication of that is that it is either humans are activating chemicals that are injurious or making use of chemicals that are injurious, causing them to be released into the atmosphere.
“That is why greenhouse gasses, methane, carbon dioxide – even what used to be normal water vapour are on the rise – all endangering human existence.
“Further activities such as agricultural practices, home/building construction have all contributed to deforestation. And nobody is planting trees; no one is encouraging green environment.
“What we are experiencing now is an accumulation of the dangers done to the environment over time. Because of this, we are having a very high accumulation of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. There is a very high accumulation of methane gas in the atmosphere, same for water vapour. All these plus other smaller gases are not allowing the entry of solar radiation. On hitting the earth surface, it is prevented from escaping into the planetary space.
“The heat so released by the sun’s rays is expected to escape into the atmosphere. But these gases go to seal up the upper level of the troposphere above, preventing the exit of this so-called heat into the atmosphere. This heat now returns to earth causing this regime of heat wave which is very injurious to human survival.
“If these gases can allow what we call thermal radiation to escape into space, we will not be experiencing heat wave.
“This might likely increase in the future because what we have as the annual global temperature today will certainly increase tomorrow.”
He also attributed the situation to “the asphalting of a large swath of the environment or what we call paving of the environment or building hard core. This paving does not allow the natural surface of the earth to receive and assimilate heat. That is why when you go to places bearing asphalting surfaces at about 8:00p.m, it will be releasing heat. You feel heat in the environment. You touch the walls, you notice that they are releasing heat, the same for other hard cores used in decorating our environment.
“When people in those areas sleep outside their home because of the heat in the rooms, their sleep is never sound. The following morning, they sleep in the office.”
He lamented that daily temperature has continued to rise as high as 42 degrees C in some places in the North and 38C in some other areas depending on the location. And “that is why people continue to perspire and feel hot; when they walk in the sun, it seems as if the sun is hotter than it used to be. It is not, although the situation is sort of amplified by it.”
Heat wave and your health
Dr Abayomi, chairman, Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN) and medical director, Hoarse Methodist Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, also explained to Sunday Sun that the current hot weather condition being experienced at the moment is called heat wave.
“In the desert,” he said, “we have excess of heat; sometimes it is experienced even in Europe. There, it is called heat stroke. Whichever name you call it, it kills.
“Heat wave causes dehydration. This deprives the muscles and the cells enough water to function and makes re-hydration difficult.
“When there is dehydration, infection occurs more easily. The heat causes the cells to be drained; they get tired; this can cause the heart to stop functioning. Then death follows.”
To buttress his point, he called attention to the fact that a baby’s body is made up of about 60 per cent of water, while an adult’s is made up of 35-40 per cent of water. He said: “If the water in the body is drained, it affects the cardiovascular system of the body. That leads to death. Once the water is gone, the cells are drained; they will not be able to function normally. The brain too might not be able to function normally. The individual goes into a coma and dies. So, heat wave affects all the functioning of the system of the body. It is just like someone who has diarrhea and passing a lot of water – especially in children – that kills easily.”
Following up on that Dr Nkemdilim who works with an Anglican hospital based in Nnewi, Anambra State, affirmed that “heat causes the body chemistry to be above normal and the average person to continue to feel uncomfortable.
“High temperature affects people differently based on their body chemistry. It triggers certain reactions in people. For a pregnant woman, you see her seeking for cooler places, lying down on the bare floor because her entire body system is hot and reacting.”
He recalled that “the human body is made up of a lot of tissues,” and noted that “when they are exposed to certain degrees of temperature, they start getting worried.
“That is why when there is excessive heat people want to run to cool places.
“When we are sweating, we lose water from the body surface. It lands people into dehydration. That is why when one is losing plenty of water, the system triggers off thirst, urging people to go for water to rebuild. That is why we advise people to consciously or unconsciously take water to regain the one lost from the body surface.”
How to manage heat wave
At a time like this, Dr Abayomi advised that “people should not stay in an environment that is so hot. They should endeavour to stay in a cool shed and take a lot of fluid – up to three litres of water daily; it is important. If one can increase the fluid intake to five litres, that is better. People should take their bath always – just as frequently as they can. People should soak themselves in water in the afternoon and at night before going to bed.”
He further explained that “we encourage people to as often as possible avoid direct heat contact. People who are albino should avoid direct heat contact with the hot sun’s rays during this period because it leads to cancer of the skin among them.
“People living in the rural areas should endeavour to go to the local streams to bathe and swim to keep cool. There is every need now for the body temperature to be always at the normal level. If the body temperature is above the normal level in children, convulsion might occur. And that can lead to dehydration. It is deadly among adults and children.”
On what food people should take at a time like this, he strongly suggested “fluid and fruits” should be taken. “These help a lot. There is no drug to counter the heat. Simply avoid it; make sure that the temperature level is within normal limits so that complications don’t arise.”
Dr Nkemdilim also weighed in on what to do to stay safe. “At a time like this,” he said, “people should take a lot of juice. Consume watery stuffs. Oranges, mangoes – fruits are important. They contain up to 70-80 per cent water.
“These help to replenish lost water. Besides, juices contain a lot of multivitamins and minerals that help the body cells to grow.
“Heat waves in extreme case, destroy the body cells. In the deserts, animals die. Even those attempting to cross the Sahara desert, some of them collapse and die suddenly after the water in their cells has drained.”
He urged people to desist from “exposing yourself to sunlight. If one cannot afford juice, depend on water. Stay under trees; that might even induce sleep. While under trees, one breathes in a lot of oxygen being released by the trees.”
Then for the rich, he suggested they use their airconditioners more regularly. But for the not-so rich, “try and keep cool; take your bath regularly,” adding that the older ones should be encouraged to stay outside the room long into the night until the weather gets cooler.
Lesson from heat wave
Dr Nkemdilim reasoned that the lesson heat wave holds for everyone is that “we should always plant trees around our homes – mangoes etc, because trees supply us with fresh air.
On his part, Dr Abayomi called on the government to ramp up efforts at fighting emissions that pollute the air, stop deforestation and try to make water supply available to the people.
“This is the time the people need running water the most, especially in the cities. People need water so badly now,” fearing that if this situation lingers, it might be disastrous for all.
For Akinbode, the present heat regime is a “wake up call.” He added that “what this is telling us is that we should work together to see how we can collectively address the problem of climate change and mitigate its impact. We cannot just fold our arms and while this extreme weather condition continues to happen because it can actually get worse.
“What are we doing about our vehicular emission? What are we doing about the burning of fossil fuel, generators and also the issue of gas flaring in Niger-Delta? These are critical issues we have always been asking the Nigerian government to take actions on. We have to take concrete actions to control those things that we do as individuals, as corporations, as government to be able to tackle global warming.”
Prof Njoku on his part, wants everyone to note that “development does not mean deforestation. When we cut down trees, we should plant more trees. Trees should be planted in between homes. They produce oxygen for us and the younger the better. Forests should be conserved,” he said, adding that doing so, the effects of climate change would be mitigated.