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Heat waves can trigger premature delivery – Public health prof

Professor of Public Health at the University of Ilorin and former National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Tanimola Akande, speaks to VICTORIA EDEME on the causes, effects, and solutions to the current heat waves in the country

What are your thoughts on the heat waves being faced by Nigerians currently?

It’s a global thing. The whole world is having global warming, although it’s happening at different times. This is Nigeria’s time. This is our usual hot weather, which is seasonal. Unfortunately, as is happening in other parts of the world, the temperatures are getting higher than they used to be. That’s the situation in Nigeria now. Global warming means that the temperature all over the world is on the high side; higher than what it used to be. In some countries, they’ve never got 40 degrees centigrade, especially in temperate countries. But these days, they are recording as much as that. So even in Nigeria, we also have a temperature higher than it used to be. Some areas have one or two more degrees centigrade than they used to have. That explains global warming.

What are the causes of global warming?

Global warming has several causes but what is happening now is attributed mostly to climate change. We have the greenhouse gases that are being produced because of the burning of fossils. These are fuels we burn in cars, in petrochemical industries, and in so many other places. These give rise to global warming. Some other causes include deforestation as we no longer have forests as thick as they used to be. In some parts of the world, there is drought, which makes the environment warmer. Another cause is that when the ocean’s temperature is very high, it also affects other parts of the earth. These contribute to the heat wave.

How do you describe a heat wave?

Heat wave is a situation where temperatures are high for not only a few days, but extending into weeks. It is often accompanied by some humidity in the weather as well. It is not only that the temperature is high, it is also humid.

Aside from global warming and climate change, are there other factors that contribute to heat waves?

Urbanisation of towns makes heat waves more complex because heat is generated more in urban places. Firstly, it leads to the depletion of the ozone layers. Secondly, various activities in urban areas make them have higher temperatures than rural places or villages. Also, the temperature may get high due to certain variations in climate. All these also transcend to other parts of the earth, leading to heat waves.

What factors specifically contribute to the heat waves in Nigeria?

All I have mentioned earlier also applies to Nigeria. We have the problem of gas flaring in the functional refineries in the South. We also have a lot of activities like burning tyres and using old vehicles with a lot of emissions, which also contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. Others include the kind of gas used in refrigerators, which can also deplete the ozone layer and lead to global warming.

What is the relationship between heat waves and climate change?

Several factors lead to heat waves but it is mainly attributable to climate change. Climate change is one of the factors that lead to heat waves. When greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are produced due to human activities like bush burning, it may lead to heat waves.

What are the effects of heat waves on humans?

Heat waves come with excessive sweating and when that happens, you’re losing fluids. If too much fluid is lost, it can lead to dehydration. Heat waves can also lead to heat exhaustion, heat strokes, heat cramps, and so on. These are some of the manifestations of heat waves on humans.

You mentioned that heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps are associated with heat waves. Can you explain each of these conditions?

Heat stroke often occurs when the temperature is above 40 degrees centigrade. Due to the effect of heat on various organs, the central nervous system may have abnormal functioning. It could make some people confused and easily irritable, which does not happen normally. Other symptoms include dry skin and rapid heartbeats. If it is very severe, it could also damage organs in the body. Heat cramps come with activities being done during heat waves, where you experience a sustained contraction of the muscles, which is painful. It is what the layman will call ‘muscle pull’. It usually occurs when the weather is very hot. Heat exhaustion happens when you get stressed because of very high temperatures. You may feel weak and not be as functional as you used to be at normal temperatures. During this time, it seems you’ve lost energy.

Aside from humans, what other entities suffer from heat waves?

The effects of heat waves are not limited to humans; animals also suffer from them. Veterinarians should know more about this. The effects of heat waves are not limited to man. Some animals also suffer from them. For example, those animals that have their skins coated in fur or feathers are affected by the high temperature. During the hot season, snakes tend to come out of their hideouts, below the soil, because of the heat there.

What kind of people are more at risk during heat waves?

Everyone is affected by the high temperature but some people have higher risks than others. For example, when elderly people suffer from the effects of heat waves, their dehydration can get rapidly worse. Children are also vulnerable to heat waves. Also, people who work outdoors and do strenuous jobs are more at risk during heat waves. For example, diggers, welders, and other artisans who work outdoors and are exposed to heat for long times are also more at risk. Another set of people who have higher risks of being affected by heat waves are those with chronic diseases, including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, etc. Also, those who put on heavy clothing in the process of their work are at risk of the effects of heat waves.

Are there any effects of heat waves on pregnant women?

Pregnant women need more fluids in their system. A derailment in it because of dehydration is a problem. There are also hormonal changes that can occur with heat waves, which make pregnant women more susceptible to heat stroke than other people. Heat waves can affect the mother as well as the foetus. The mother can experience stress. The foetus can also be stressed, which can lead to foetal distress. Sometimes, the child is even born before full term, which is known as preterm delivery or preterm labour.

What are the effects of heat waves on plants and the environment?

During intense heat, plants dry up faster and shed their leaves. Some of the leaves can even get scorched. Heat waves can also affect the growth of plants because the plants may not get enough water from their roots and may not be as productive as they should be when the weather is fair enough. During heat waves, pests are likely to attack plants more. When it comes to the environment, there is a derailment of the ecosystem and things won’t balance as they should be. This is because the plants meant to produce certain things like oxygen and other nutrients are not performing those functions well.

There is a derailment in the environment as the hot weather may lead to more air pollution. There is more dust, particularly in developing countries, due to heat waves. These are some of the effects of heat waves on the environment. When there is intense heat, it seems like there’s no water in the ground, and water sources become dry. When this happens, it becomes difficult to get enough water for drinking, especially in rural places. The ponds that are used by some people in rural places also dry up. When such ponds dry up, they become susceptible to more contamination than when there’s no heat wave.

What are the dos and don’ts of managing the heat wave?

You should be sensitive about the season and be aware that the temperature is beyond the usual. This is where the role of the meteorologists becomes important. They can predict and give warnings ahead to Nigerians about likely temperature changes so that people will prepare ahead. With such in place, you can decide what day you will go out and stay long outdoors. When there’s a heat wave, you should reduce exposure to heat as much as possible. Whatever can be done indoors should be done indoors rather than outdoors.

Trees also offer shade, so people can sit under trees when there are heat waves. People who have the luxury of fans and air conditioners can also use them during that period to have some cooling. Most importantly, you should drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. During hot weather, you should drink as much water as you can because you are releasing fluid in the process, and that fluid needs to be replaced. This will likely prevent dehydration. During this period, it is not also advisable to put on cumbersome clothing. You don’t expect someone to wear a sweater when there is a heat wave. Clothing should be as light as possible. For those who use cream, the amount of cream they apply on their body should be reduced, so that they do not have to sweat heavily. Some people these days use rechargeable mobile fans that they take around to cool themselves. This is a useful tool during a heat wave.

What are your thoughts on the poor power supply in Nigeria amid the heat wave?

Unfortunately, we have to bear a lot of this hardship. Power supply is very poor now and when it is hot outside, people would want to come indoors. But when they come indoors, it’s still hot inside because the fans and air conditioners cannot work when there is no power supply. Sadly, not everyone can afford alternative energy like generators to power these cooling systems. Unfortunately, it’s happening this way. This is even the period you need to drink chilled water but due to poor power supply, you hardly get chilled water to drink. Though drinking warm water is better than not drinking anything, the lack of chilled water allows you to drink less than you want. If it’s cold, you probably will drink more. But it can’t be cold because the power distribution companies are not supplying power regularly as they should.

During this period, people also sleep outdoors and are susceptible to mosquitoes because indoors may be too hot and outside is a bit cooler at night. Due to lack of power supply, people will have to move out and they can get bitten by mosquitoes and other insects. We hope things will change for good in Nigeria, where we can have a stable power supply to cool the environment where we are during the hot weather.

What can Nigerians do to reduce activities that could lead to heat waves?

There is a need to increase awareness of the non-natural causes of global warming. Fossil fuel burning and the release of greenhouse gases through various human activities like the burning of things like tyres, emissions from cars with poorly maintained engines, and others should be controlled. Tree planting should be encouraged among Nigerians to provide shade and also reduce deforestation. Individuals should spread awareness of heat waves and refrain from activities that will worsen global warming. People should maintain their vehicles so they don’t have too much emission, which increases the temperature. The use of certain gases also leads to the production of greenhouse gases, which can lead to ozone layer depletion. All these can be controlled if people have the right information about them.

What are the roles of government in ensuring that the heat wave is curtailed?

The government has a role to play in increasing awareness and also needs to implement existing policies that address global warming. We have a lot of policies that are not being implemented. The Federal Government is a signatory to international conventions on reducing global warming. So the government should play its part, particularly in the area of gas flaring. There’s so much gas flaring in Nigeria and the country has been playing lip service to this over the years. A lot of effort should be made to reduce gas flaring. That will go a long way in reducing heat waves, which come with global warming.

 The government should also put in place measures to mitigate the effect of heat waves like forecasting temperatures and providing early warnings to the populace. The government should also make the agencies in charge of weather forecast work. The government should increase awareness of the negative effects of heat waves, particularly on human health. Government buildings should have cooling facilities and also ensure there is power supply to make these facilities functional. People need these to cool themselves, either through drinks, fans, or ACs.

Town planning authorities at the state government level should also ensure that towns and cities are well planned, making provision for tree shades and enforcing building codes. Today, people just build anyhow. Urbanisation is on the increase in Nigeria and the government can do a lot in this area by ensuring that the rural areas are being improved and create employment in such places.

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