Lately, as soon as the sun’s rays hit the Lagos horizon, the heat, within minutes, becomes quite unbearable.
Kunle, a Lagos-based tailor, who hissed intermittently as he tried effortlessly to cool his sweaty body with a shirt used as an improvised fan, said the heat in the past weeks has become a torment.
And with his effort obviously not paying off, he blurted out in frustration: “What type of weather is this? The sun is almost roasting us alive. It’s like I am on fire. No time of the day is better. It’s even worse at night.”
The shrill cries of two-year-old Nnnena only drew pity from the many customers that thronged her mother’s shop to buy food condiments. With her tiny hands, she tugged at her hair. The source of her agony was the giant sized boils that infested her head, occupying every available space on her scalp. Also covering her body were rashes that have left the toddler restless, especially at night.
“I have bathed her more than five times today. The heat has become too much and is making my daughter very sick. These boil have refused to go despite all the medications. Once the weather becomes calm, they will all disappear. I can’t wait for the rainy season to come,” Ngozi, the child’s mother, said.
Another Lagos resident, Tony, mirrored the minds and the experiences of many Nigerians lately. For parents especially, it has been several tough weeks of long sleepless nights, characterised by helping their children to survive the excruciating heat by taking multiple baths or dipping towels in water to mop their bodies to provide temporary relief.
Call it the fury of the sun, and you won’t be far from the truth. Suddenly, the sun seems to have grown hotter in intensity, causing a lot of discomfort wherever its powerful rays fall. The strength of the heat, many have noted, is hellish and killing.
As it stands, the ferocious heat wave sweeping through Lagos and other parts of the country has made living frustrating, especially at night.
Many just cannot understand how the weather could suddenly go from being cool in December to blazing hot from January till date.
According to environmental and health experts, Lagos is currently experiencing a heat wave, which is a prolonged period of excessively and abnormally hot weather with temperature exceeding 32.2 ºC. They explained that it is usually accompanied by humidity that usually lasts for at least one day but could last several days to weeks. Continuous exposure to this excessive heat, they warned, is dangerous and could cause problems such as heat rash, heat stress, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Excessive heat has suddenly become a nagging pain for residents of not only Lagos but across the country.
Not helping the issue is the near absence of electricity supply to many homes. With petrol almost priced out of the reach of the common man, powering the cheapest of generators, popularly known as I-better-pass-my-neighbour, to ameliorate the scorching heat has become almost impossible.
To cope with the unbearable heat, most people have resorted to sleeping in open spaces despite the dangers posed by mosquitoes and robbers. More money is now spent on buying prickly heat dusting powder, Calamine lotion and hand fans. And for the rich, air conditioned cars and homes offer some reprieve from the extreme weather condition. Many have now resorted to wearing towels and wrappers in the house to get enough air and to avoid getting drenched in perspiration.
The World Metrological Organisation’s prediction asserted that prolonged and extreme hot weather condition would be experienced across the world. This was after a compilation of data from over 80 weather agencies around the world.
Based on this, experts have advised people to stay away from the hot sun as well as avoid engaging in strenuous activities. They stressed that humans do not function well when the weather is very hot and advised Nigerians to always use umbrellas when going out and to work less in the hot weather.
Those that might suffer more from this present extreme heat, according to medical experts, are pregnant women and children. Pregnant women, especially, are believed to be more prone to heat rash, dehydration, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, especially during the first trimester.
Also likely to come down with heat-related ailments, it was gathered, are elderly people and those with chronic medical conditions. Ailments like cold, catarrh and conjunctivitis (“apollo”) are also noted to be the common bacteria and viral infections that are rampant during hot weather conditions.
Chukwurah Henry, a medical practitioner, said, for children, ailments like meningitis and measles are usually experienced in the dry, hot season. He also said other life-threatening illnesses like whooping cough and tuberculosis endanger the health of children at this time.
“Dehydration has been identified as another condition, which, if not treated immediately, could damage organs like the liver and kidney. It is advised that children are clothed lightly and kept in a well-ventilated environment,” he said.
Even though no actual figure has been provided about heat-related deaths, such deaths or related illnesses are preventable.
In June 2002, at least 60 people died from heat stroke caused by intense heat in Maiduguri, Borno State. The temperature had fluctuated between 55 and 60 ºC.
Available statistics indicate that, between 1979 and 2003, excessive heat exposure caused about 8,015 deaths in the United States. It was noted that during the period more people died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
This extreme weather condition, environmental experts have said, could be blamed on the rapid deforestation and degradation of Nigeria’s rainforest. And just like climate change proponents have said, the earth is facing serious problems of climate change and global warming, and climate change has been the greatest challenge of the present time.
A lecturer with the University of Calabar, Prof. Francis Bisong, who spoke during a three-day workshop on deforestation, forest and vegetation, said resources have been dwindling over the years.
He noted that the current deforestation rate, estimated at 3.7 per cent, was among the highest globally, placing Nigeria seventh on the list of greenhouse gases emitters due to land use change. He advised that Nigeria must urgently embrace global programmes that would encourage a safer environment.
Folusho Jegede, a public health consultant, counselled that one of the ways to avoid heat-related ailments, especially in Lagos, is for people to reduce the amount of time they spend in the sun to reduce the impacts of the rays on their skins.
He advised regular baths, adding that enough water should be taken to avoid dehydration. He also advised that fruits like cucumber, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, watermelon, coconut water and berries should be consumed in large quantities as such fruits and vegetables help keep the body hydrated.
“People should drink lots of water and avoid drinks containing alcohol and caffeine. Wearing of loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible when in the open is advisable.
“Other protective measures against the heat should include using protective gadgets such as hat, umbrella, sunglasses or sunscreen, taking cold baths and leaving the water to dry on the skin. Controlling the temperature of work environment by proper ventilation, staying on the lowest floor of the house, out of the sunshine and covering windows that receive sun with drapes or louvers is also advised. Also, anytime heat injury is suspected, the victim should be relocate to a cooler place to rest, while any excessive clothing should be taken off. The person should be given cool water that contains salt and sugar to drink. If there is no improvement, the victim should be taken to the nearest health facility,” Jegede said.
The medical practitioner further warned that continuous exposure to the sun could lead to illness, which could be managed. But he warned that some conditions might require urgent medical attention, as death may occur if not promptly handled.
Said he: “Signs of illness resulting from excessive heat may include headache, dizziness, cold moist skin, fainting, confusion, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and rapid breathing.”
Medical experts also advised that children, especially babies, be dressed very lightly and not bundled in blankets or heavy clothing. Children with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, they advised, should not be allowed to participate in vigorous exercise in the heat, and should not be left in parked cars or cramped into a bus.
Also for children, staying out of the heat and humidity by being indoors during the hottest time of the day, which is usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon, was advised.
Medical professionals also counselled parents to ensure good personal hygiene for their children, such as helping them bathe at least twice a day to reduce colonisation of the skin by fungi, which might lead to heat rash or boil.