As construction boom hits its peak ahead of Fifa World Cup, Guardian analysis shows workers toiling in potentially fatal temperatures
Migrant labourers are being worked to death in searing temperatures in Qatar, with hundreds estimated to be dying from heat stress every year, a Guardian investigation can reveal.
This summer, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers toiled in temperatures of up to 45C for up to 10 hours a day as Qatars construction boom hit its peak ahead of the Fifa World Cup 2022.
The Qatari authorities, in line with other countries across the Gulf, have said they are protecting workers from heat-related injuries through a work ban that prohibits manual labour in unshaded outdoor areas between 11.30 and 3pm from mid-June to August.
Yet a Guardian analysis of official weather data over a nine-year period showed that the working ban does not keep workers safe. In the hours outside the ban, anyone working outdoors is still being exposed to potentially fatal levels of heat stress between June and September, which cardiologists say is leading to high numbers of fatalities every year.
Our analysis also found dangerous levels of heat exposure continues into the cooler months.
Doha is currently hosting the World Athletics Championships, with athletes and sports professionals describing extreme heat conditions over the weekend. Yet outside of the air-conditioned stadiums, workers remain at risk of serious harm from heat stress between 9am and 12 noon throughout October.
Working in high temperatures puts a huge strain on the human cardiovascular system, with extreme heat stress leading to fatal heart attacks and other cardiovascular fatalities, recent research has shown.
Every year hundreds of workers many young men between 25 and 35 years old die while working in Qatar. The majority of these deaths are attributed to cardiovascular causes or natural death by the Qatari authorities.
Yet recent research published in the Cardiology Journal by a group of leading climatologists and cardiologists concluded that the deaths were likely to be caused by heatstroke, exploring the correlation between the deaths of 1,300 Nepali workers between 2009 and 2017, and rising temperatures.
The research found that in the cooler months about 22% of deaths year-on-year were attributed to heart attacks, cardiac arrest or other cardio-related causes by the Qatari authorities. In the summer months this spiked to 58%.
From our research it was clear that workers are being recruited in their home countries partly on the basis of their health and are arriving in the Gulf fit for work, said Dr Dan Atar, professor of cardiology and head of research at Oslo University Hospital, who co-authored the research into cardiovascular deaths and heat stress.
Young men have a very low incidence of heart attacks yet hundreds of them are dying every year in Qatar attributed to cardiovascular causes. The clear conclusion that I draw from this as a cardiologist is that these deaths are caused by deadly heatstroke. Their bodies cannot take the heat stress they are being exposed to.
Atar said that according to the research, as many as 200 of the 571 young men who died of cardiovascular causes between 2009 and 2017 could have been saved if effective heat protection measures had been implemented as part of occupational health and safety programmes.
Qatars construction boom ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup has seen the countrys migrant worker population rise to 1.9m, many of these young men from Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan who travel to the country to build the stadiums, roads and hotels that will service the tournament.
Of the 11 worker fatalities of workers linked to Fifa World Cup stadiums recorded by Qatars Supreme Committee, the body responsible for workers health and safety last year, nine were attributed to sudden heart attacks or respiratory failure.