5 - 11 August 1999
Issue No. 441
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
HEAT WAVE: Mop our brows though we may, there's just no refuge from the blazing sun
photo: Randa Shaath
By Fatemah Farag
That melting feeling
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Focus Interview Features Travel Living Sports Time Out Chronicles People Cartoons Letters
The heat has taken on a life of its own. You can see it ripple up off the tarmac, feel it hit you when you walk onto the street and stifle you as you search for an elusive breeze on a still night. The heat has also become the major topic of conversation. Men, women, rich, poor: everyone sweats.
"But this summer is so much better than the last," says a senior official at the Weather Forecasting Bureau. "The heat waves this year are all very short, not like the 30-day one we got in the summer of 1998. The weekend before last was of course our worst, with the temperature rising to 38íC and humidity at 60 per cent." Average temperatures expected in Cairo during the month of August range from 33 to 35íC, while humidity should average around 40 per cent.
Many, however, seem wary of the official figures. "I don't think that what we read in the papers can be correct," comments Ali Dessouqi, a taxi driver, mopping sweat off of his face with a towel. "Can this be only 38? It must be over 40, but I think the government does not want to upset people by telling them the truth." Faith in the abilities of the Weather Forecasting Bureau has never been blind. "When you read the forecast you should immediately expect the opposite of what they write," jokes Fathi, a soft drink vendor downtown. He is watching as two women peer into his fridge. "Get me the one at the bottom," one of them barks. "The ones on the bottom are colder." She grabs the perspiring bottle and applies it to her cheek. "It is sooo hot," she sighs.
The Weather Forecasting Bureau, however, has its side of the story -- one that has as much to do with feelings as with figures.
To start with, officials claim that global warming has not affected Egypt. "This is a fallacy. In fact, average temperatures have remained constant. It is people themselves who have changed." People? "But of course," exclaims one official. "People have changed because the rhythm of life is now more intense. Before, they did not carry as many burdens and life was easier. You see, heat is a feeling, not just a figure on the thermometer." In addition, the official points out that tall buildings, the proliferation of air-conditioners, overcrowding, the increased number of cars, the cloud of pollution, and even wall-to-wall carpeting, all lead to a greater sensitivity to heat.
Although most people insist this is not the way Egypt used to be, the authorities are adamant. "Everyone is talking about climate change. However, the world depends on God's will, and will not change until the Judgement Day -- anything said to the contrary is unscientific," the official said.
Figures or faith, the distinction seems to melt in the mid-day sun. The heat is even making the headlines: a member of parliament and his family die in a road accident brought on by the heat; a woman dies from the heat while waiting in line to pay her phone bill. "The heat is no little matter," elaborates Dessouqi. "You must have the correct tyres on your car, not the ones they use in Europe, or you could have an accident. You should always try and stay off the streets in the afternoon."
Organising one's day according to the temperature, however, is not always an option. "When the forecast is calculated, the readings are taken in the shade and during times of the day which are not the hottest," asserts Fathiya, walking out of her downtown office. "So I think the readings are accurate, but they are taken in conditions different from what most people have deal with." Fathiya has her own take on this matter. "You know, if the temperature reaches 50 degrees the government is supposed to tell people to stay home. That could be quite a few work days lost."
As to the accuracy of weather forecasts, the official explains: "We cannot forecast accurately beyond four days. The most technologically advanced in this area are the Americans, who can forecast accurately up to 10 days in advance. Otherwise, we are just making statistical calculations. However, within our technological limitations we are always 95 to 100 per cent correct."
On the street, one passer-by comments: "I don't care what anyone says. I am hot."