By SHABINA S. KHATRI
Qatar summers are intolerably, unbearably, impossibly, hot.
The thermostat regularly hits highs in the 40s from June to September, and most expats here deal with such extreme temperatures by fleeing the country on holiday. Many of those who remain spend the months in air-conditioned homes, cars, offices and malls.
But not everyone has that luxury. As Qatar empties for the summer, thousands of construction workers remain outside – heat notwithstanding – continuing to build the nation from the ground up.
“This summer is very difficult to work – very hot,” said Dsan, a 42-year-old Nepali who has worked in Doha’s construction industry for 12 years. “Whoever is inside, it’s good. But outside – it’s a problem.”
Construction is big business here, employing about half of Qatar’s expat labor force, or some 500,000 people, according to 2009 figures from the Qatar Statistics Authority. Many of those included in that figure are unskilled male laborers from Nepal, India and the Philippines.
They are the ones Qatar is counting on to bring hundreds of its construction projects to fruition at a breakneck pace. And hot or not, the work must continue. But with the desert country hitting record-high temperatures this summer, how are the men making it through each day?
Besides gulping as much water as they can get their hands on, many men, including Dsan, continue to be motivated by a steady paycheck, something they are not guaranteed in their home countries.
Others may not have any other choice, said Jennifer Heeg, a political science professor at Texas A&M University in Qatar who has written about migrant labor in the Gulf.
“To me, the biggest problem is the existence of the kafala (sponsorship) system,” said Heeg, referring to Qatar’s visa system, which requires anyone who wants to work here to have a sponsor, as well as to seek permission from that sponsor to leave the country, either on holiday or permanently.
“It means the workers don’t have an option – they can’t just change employers, even if they feel their health is at risk, so they’re stuck between the kafala system and the loans they took to get here,” she said.
Under Qatari law, those who leave their jobs without obtaining no-objection certificates from their previous employers may lose out on other employment opportunities in the country. This and the exit permit provision have been criticized by several organizations, including Amnesty International and the US State Department, which this summer put Qatar on a “watch list” for laws that it says promotes human trafficking.
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