The extreme heat can take a toll upon the economies of tropical countries

The extreme heat can take a toll upon the economies of tropical countries
  • New research has shown that extreme heat can cost tropical countries an extra 5% of their per capita annual GDP. However, more wealthy mid-latitude nations lose less than 1% of their GDP to heat waves. This could even boost economic growth.
  • Even though they are least responsible and most economically capable, poorer countries in tropical regions suffer from the greatest heat wave effects.
  • Extreme heat and drought can have devastating effects on local communities. This is the case for Kenyan families that rely upon cattle to survive.

BISSIL (Kenya) — Worldwide heat waves are increasing, with the least responsible countries suffering the most severe effects. New research in the journal suggests that temperatures are rising worldwide. Science Advances Research shows that the economic burden of extreme heat increases is greatest in poor countries. This decreases economic growth in areas where there are less adaptable economies.

These eight years have been the warmest in recorded history. The result has been an increase in extreme weather, such as heat waves and floods,

The research by Science AdvancesThe study, “Globally uneven effect of extreme heat upon economic growth,” shows that extreme temperatures are caused by human activities which emit excessive carbon into the atmosphere. The vast majority of global temperature rises are caused by emissions from wealthy countries. The study found that the economies of rich countries are not affected by global warming. Researchers found that extreme heat may actually boost economic growth in regions with low temperatures.

According to our data, the most affected places by heat waves are those that are located in the tropics. [that] “They are also less income and emit more, so this is a pattern that shows where people who have contributed the least to climate changes are most vulnerable and where heat waves are hitting them hardest,” said Christopher Callahan (lead author).

The economic performance of low-income tropical countries is severely affected by extreme temperatures. The research shows that the per capita gross national product (GDP) in tropical countries is more than 55% less than without the heat wave. This is the measure for a country’s economic output per head. However, the heat waves only affect mid-latitude countries’ per capita GDP by about 1%. Callahan says that heat waves are a consequence of already high temperatures in the tropical region, which is made worse by them.

Additional heat can be dangerous as you may already be close to the threshold at which crops begin to die. It only takes a small amount of heat to get you to this threshold.[to] Kill crops, make people sick.”

A dry riverbed.
A dry riverbed near Lokichoggio, Kenya. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The research estimates that the global loss due to extreme heat was at least $16 trillion. This is the equivalent to a country tropical like Kenya’s annual budget over 580 years, if that were not changed. Global losses are projected to be as high as $65 trillion, according to more liberal estimates.

The findings of researchers show Kenya as an example, a country of lower income and tropical that is facing the most severe effects of climate change. Joyce Kimutai is a Kenya Meteorological Department principal meteorologist and a PhD student at African Climate & Development Initiative, Cape Town. She says extreme heat and ongoing drought in Kenya are closely linked. The country is experiencing a severe drought that has left 5.1 million Kenyans starving.

She says that when droughts are experienced, it’s often accompanied with high temperatures. So we call these compounding events.

Research shows that Kenya has had heat waves lasting from 3 to 26 days, despite the lack of records for heat wave events in national or international databases. Based on data from 1987 to 2016, this research also shows that heat waves are worsening in recent years. The most severe was recorded in 2015. These areas, along with the northern and eastern parts of Kenya are currently suffering from drought.

This has huge economic implications. The Kenyan government reported that it needed 17 billion shillings (138.5 million dollars) to combat the drought.

Christine Maswi is a chief meteorologist with the Kenya Meteorological Department. She says heat waves can affect both humans and animals. Although humans can become sicker and lose productivity, animals are more likely to die from heat stress than from water or feed shortages.

Heat stress is one of the side effects of heat waves [in the animals] Maswi states that this could cause death. Maswi also said that the degradation of water and pasture makes matters worse.

Kenya’s Wildlife Research and Training Institute published a report highlighting 1,198 wildlife deaths — which included wildebeest and plains zebra. Also known as common Zebra. Equus quagga() and Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi)Drought between February 2022 and October 2022 was blamed on drought in elephants, buffalo and other animals due to lack or water.

The road crosses a riverbed.
On the road to Kakuma in Kenya, a road crosses a riverbed. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Mutunkei Paramet is well aware of what it’s like to lose your livelihood due to drought and extreme temperatures. Parmet is a Kenyan resident who lives in Bisil, Kajiado County in Kenya’s Rift valley. He makes a living selling and buying cows. Parmet recounts the hardships he has endured in the drought the past few months. Kajiado, according to the National Drought Management Authority’s (NDMA), December 2022 drought updates is one of the most affected counties in the alarm drought phase. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) is a government agency which monitors droughts, coordinates response and provides updates.

Parmet states that cattle’s value has decreased significantly over the past year. We normally sell cattle for between 20,000 and 100,000 kenyan shekels. [$163 – $816] But now, the maximum price that we offer is 15,000 shillings [$122].”

Parmet says that his family has been forced to dispose of their cows at a throw-away price due to a lack in water and pasture. The cost for a full grown cow is as low as 1,000 Shillings ($8.16). Parmet lost 48 cows within a matter of seven months to his six children, aged between 1 and 13. He now has only two.

Parmet states that his family is forced to sell their cows because of dire need. The family does get something. He says that they are starving during these difficult times and have no food to feed the cattle or the children. “If you get 1,000 shillings [$8]The children are provided with food. It’s devastating to lose a cow at home. You don’t get enough food that day.

Mutunkei Paramet inspects the carcasses of his cows.
Mutunkei Paramet inspects the carcasses of his cows. His brother Lemaiyan is in the background with his son. Calvin Rock Odhiambo/Mongabay.

It is clear that droughts are linked to heat waves, which shows how each problem can be compounded. Parmet claims that the heat sun is too keen to make an already difficult situation even worse.

Kimutai admits that droughts can cause extreme heat, which is something Kimutai recognizes. I did a 2016 study in Kenya; we saw the signs of climate change during drought. [also] Kimutai says that they saw the sign in extreme heat and noticed a shift in temperature. “So, we know the increased temperatures we are seeing currently is due to climate change,” he said.

Human health is also affected by these shifts. Kimutai is a meteorologist who has written a paper about the impact of extreme heat on human biology. This paper is currently under review and establishes an association between heat waves, elevated hospital admissions, and increased cases of hospitalizations, in cities like Mombasa and Nairobi.

Parmet with his wife and the children.
Parmet and his wife Sopiato Parmet along with 5 children, as well as Parmet’s brother’s son. Calvin Rock Odhiambo/Mongabay.

Kimutai explains, “It seems like when temperatures get a little higher, people’s condition are exacerbated. So when you visit the hospital, you will likely be bedridden or stay longer. People with preexisting medical conditions may also need to go to the hospital to be admitted.”

Studies show that extreme heat can lead to increased costs for treating heat-related diseases, decreased productivity and effects on crop yields and food supply.

Callahan says that income is a key factor in adaptation to heat extremes. Callahan says that technology-driven adaptations such as the installation of air conditioners are hindered by this fact, because some of the most affected regions in terms of heat damage also have low income.

He says that air conditioning is one of the most important things in the future. Air conditioning can be very costly so adapting to climate change is currently a function of income.

In higher income countries, adaptations can include infrastructural improvements like air conditioning. However, these structural shifts often involve economic restructuring from agriculturally to service-oriented economies. In lower income countries, however, the adaptations are more behavioral. You might be able to move indoors in the heat of the day, or do labor-intensive work during cooler hours. They may not work every time.

Callahan says that the planting of trees can help people adapt to heat extremes. With the Kenyan government promising to double the country’s tree coverage by 2030, this could prove to be one of the best ways to address the issue.

Green spaces can be a powerful tool for climate adaptation. Callahan states that trees and green space can dramatically change the urban environment. They provide shade and transpire water to the atmosphere. The water can also cool the air.

Parmet and Zaidimu, his youngest son.
Parmet and Zaidimu, his youngest son. Calvin Rock Odhiambo/Mongabay.

His team is vast, however. Callahan states that while GDP is the only measure of economic activity, heat waves have far greater effects than that. It may be impossible to estimate every loss.

You have an economy that can produce goods and services [that] He says that people get caught up in the gross domestic product label. The problem is that the GDP and monetary outputs are not enough to measure what is important. One of the worst impacts of climate change will be species loss and biodiversity loss. [and] habitat loss.”

According to him, increased adaptation must be accompanied by emissions reduction and compensation for damage or loss caused by high-emitting nations. Delegates agreed at COP27 to create a fund that would compensate the poorer nations for any losses resulting from climate change.

“Large emitters must pay smaller emitters for the losses they’ve suffered [and] “Our research shows that these losses are extremely large, and they must be compensated,” Callahan states.

Extreme heat does not get better and drastic measures are necessary, he says. He says that the economic consequences of the research should be a wake up call to the urgent need for action.


Callahan, C. W., & Mankin, J. S. (2022). Extreme heat has a global impact on economic growth that is uneven. Science Advances, 8(43). doi:10.1126/sciadv.add3726

Human Rights Watch. (2014). “There’s no time left”: Climate Change and Environmental Threats in Turkana County (Kenya). Retrieved from

Amou, M., Gyilbag, A., Demelash, T., & Xu, Y. (2020). Kenya Heatwaves 1987-16: Data from the CHIRTS satellite remote sensing and station-mixed temperature data. Atmosphere, 12(1), 37. doi:10.3390/atmos12010037

How the current drought is affecting wildlife in Kenya. (2022). Retrieved from Wildlife Research and Training Institute website:

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