Extreme heat—hot enough to render life impossible—is the grim reality the BBC aims to depict in a new program that will foreshadow the most likely future scenario for increasing numbers of people, unless the COP 26 talks in Glasgow this week can set the world on the path to a bearable climate.
Airing at 8:00 PM London time on November 10, Life At 50°C [122°F] explores one of the most devastating effects of the climate crisis: extreme heat. From the BBC’s award-winning This World strand, it shows the day-to-day impact of such high temperatures in a range of countries across the world.
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The current year is likely to be the hottest year on record, with millions of people worldwide having their health, livelihoods, and lives endangered. Shot in seven countries where extreme heat has become part of people’s daily lives, Life At 50°C shows the human stories behind climate change, and how the climate crisis is already affecting lives.
From Mauritania to Australia, Nigeria to Iraq, it reveals how extreme heat is forcing people to flee their homes, devastating the natural world, depriving impoverished areas of the little water they have, threatening the future of younger generations, and putting their health at risk.
This is what lies ahead for many people in other parts of the world, too. The people seen in the film are determined to survive and adapt, and their resourcefulness and resilience are an inspiration.
Contributors include India MacDonell, an Australian teenager who saved her home from a catastrophic bushfire; Julio Cesar Bueno Ramirez Buenrostro, a paramedic with the Mexican Red Cross; Patrick Michell, one of the 250 people in Lytton, Canada, who lost their homes when the village reached 49.5°C before burning to the ground; and Ascia Alshammiri, a mother of two living in Kuwait City, judged one of this year’s hottest places on Earth.
BBC News Urdu focuses on the lives faced by the hundreds of climate refugees forced to migrate every summer from the Pakistani town of Sibi, in Balochistan, to cooler areas, as temperatures there reach 52°C. Its reporter, Umer Draz Nangiana, said: “Sibi is just one of the places which climate change is rendering uninhabitable. We have filmed ghost villages around Bakhtiarabad and Lundi, some of them permanently abandoned.”
Since 2019, BBC News Urdu has been reporting from Sibi as a location affected by extreme heat-induced migration. Scientists believe most of Pakistan is likely to face some of the worst effects of the global climate crisis and expect some of the country may see record high temperatures.
Nomads who roam the desert have been migrating for decades to evade extreme heat, but there are now new patterns of migration among people who were well settled in their traditional homes as recently as six or seven years ago. Today, some have no plans to return home to Sibi even during the winters.
The BBC talked to one family that recently returned to their home in Sibi, having spent six summer months 150 kilometres away in the city of Quetta. The reservoir—the area’s only source of drinkable water—dried up early in the summer. As a result, whatever crops the family had managed to cultivate were destroyed and, with them, their livelihoods.
According to new analysis commissioned by BBC World Service (of which BBC News Urdu is part) and carried out by the BBC News data journalism unit, days when the temperature exceeds 50°C have doubled since the 1980s, and now occur in more parts of the world.
Life At 50°C content on the BBC’s international platforms includes a documentary filmed in Pakistan’s port city, Karachi, where the use of air conditioning is on the rise—for those who can afford it—but where energy-hungry aircon itself helps to drive climate change. The film (also available in Urdu) follows Raza, a busy young aircon repairman, and entrepreneur Shahzad Qureshi, who is trying to cool the city by creating urban forests.
This article and the BBC programs that I have listened to on the subject of Air Conditioning miss the fact that A/C units have to work harder at reducing humidity than they do the temperature. High humidity is also debilitating because unlike heat, there is no respite from taking shelter.