Kuwait City, Karachi and the Iranian city of Ahvaz all experience some of the highest temperatures in the world. Such extreme heat, combined with poor air quality and planning, can have grave effects, especially for their poorest residents.
Sharifa Alshalfan, an architect based in Kuwait City, explains that Kuwaitis spend all of their time indoors. “It’s almost as if the outdoors doesn’t exist,” she says. “That’s the mindset of people here.”
It’s true that Kuwait City is one of the hottest cities in the world. On average, summer is hotter than in desert city Timbuktu, which sits on the edge of the Sahara. But it’s also wealthy – modern Kuwait City is built on oil money – which is why most Kuwaitis don’t really experience the heat; they can afford to avoid it. It’s generally only those on lower incomes, many of them immigrants from southeast Asia, that Alshalfan will see shading themselves under umbrellas on the street or riding public buses.
While Kuwaitis may be convinced that they’re living in the hottest city on the planet, there is at least one place that may be able to top it – if not for highest-ever temperature, then certainly for the impact of heat on its population. Iran’s Ahvaz, in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, sometimes exceeds 50C in July. Yet it’s not so much the heat as the pollution that makes life unbearable for Ahvaz’s 1.5 million residents.