Nigeria reeling from extreme heat fueled by climate change


April 10, 2024

Since the start of this year, Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, has faced prolonged stretches of severe heat. A recent quick-fire analysis found that human-caused climate change made conditions in February, when temperatures exceeded 40°C, ten times more likely.

But the heat is still ongoing, with temperatures reaching a record 44.8°C in Sokoto, a city in north-western Nigeria, on April 1. With no records of heat and its impacts in Nigeria, we spoke to doctors, farmers, and meteorologists about how this extreme weather episode affects the country.

Health impacts

Experts say that the ongoing extreme heat in Nigeria is having a range of health impacts, and most of these are not being routinely recorded. On March 28, Nigeria’s national electricity grid collapsed, plunging the country into a general blackout for the second time during the heat wave.

Despite its oil and gas wealth, Nigeria experiences frequent power outages, and many people rely on petrol and diesel generators to cool their homes. However, fuel prices have skyrocketed in the past year, making such alternatives unattainable for many Nigerians.

The impact of the heat is “catastrophic,” Dr Ugo Uguwanyi, a doctor in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, said. “Don’t even bother to step out from 10 am to 6 pm. And make sure you burn the diesel to power the air conditioning so you can sleep at night.”

Although information about the impact of heat waves is limited, this does not mean that weather conditions are not dangerous, according to the authors of the recent analysis of the role of climate change in Nigeria’s extreme heat. Rather, a lack of systematic reporting may obscure what they described as a “silent killer.”

The study’s authors called for “improved monitoring and research on the impacts and risks associated with heat waves.”.

Nigeria’s dry season runs from December to March, although it is longer in the north and shorter in the south. Temperatures build during this season, typically bringing more reported cases of “meningitis, stress, stroke, blood pressure and stroke,” says Dr Uguwanyi.

He added that such cases are likely to increase during intense heat waves, which are projected to become more common if global warming continues to accelerate.

Dr Ebbi Robinson, the chair of the Nigeria Medical Association in the oil-rich, southern state of Rivers, adds that while “there is no specific documentation,” extreme heat typically increases hospital visits to dermatologists, with symptoms such as rashes and itching.

He said that his association is rolling out new methods to warn people of the health impacts of extreme heat. “We are making radio jingles and banners to let people know these heat waves are real and sensitize them on how to mitigate against the direct and indirect consequences.”

In mid-February, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) issued a public forecast warning on the prolonged heat wave. The agency advised citizens to stay hydrated, wear light clothing, and avoid direct exposure to high temperatures during peak periods. A group of Nigerian doctors also issued safety tips.

Wasiu Adeniyi Ibrahim, a meteorologist at NiMet, said, “Heat waves, characterized by prolonged periods of excessively hot temperatures and humidity, are becoming more frequent and intense. We have observed a departure of 2-4°C from normal (long-time average temperature, 1991-2020) in February. It is clear that climate change is bringing more and more dangerously hot days to Africa.”

Workforce impacts

In February, NiMet’s director of weather forecast services, Vincent Weli, advised that a state of emergency should be declared in states most affected by the heat wave, and workers should be allowed to take breaks between noon and 3 pm. “Of course, you know, high temperatures affect cognitive development and productivity. There will be a loss of concentration.”

The call was necessary as “the condition was favorable for an outbreak of meningitis,” Ibrahim added: “We observed a high dust concentration and excessive heat, which could trigger a meningitis outbreak. Epileptic power supply, low ventilation, and other factors could make the situation worse if not properly controlled.”

Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, is more easily spread in extreme heat and dusty conditions. However, state governments have not issued such directives. “Many state governments in Nigeria are not taking weather and climate information very seriously,” Ibrahim said.

Meanwhile, ride-hailing drivers in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populated city, are operating under “melting” conditions, stuck between preserving their health or livelihood, according to a Rest of World report.

Agricultural impacts

The heat wave is also expected to reduce agricultural productivity, which contributes about 22 percent to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for more than a third of total employment.

“Heat waves can reduce agricultural productivity by causing heat stress to crops and livestock,” Ibrahim said. “It could negatively affect crop growth and development by disrupting physiological processes, such as photosynthesis, respiration, and water uptake. High temperatures can lead to wilting, leaf scorching, and reduced nutrient uptake, impairing plant growth, producing fewer fruits, and reducing yields.

“In animals, heat waves may reduce feed intake, lower weight gain, decrease milk production, reduce reproductive performance and [cause] animal mortality, if proper mitigation measures are not in place.”

Again, there is not much data on how the current heat affects agriculture in Nigeria. However, the national secretary of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Yunusa Halidu, said its members expect the heat wave to affect productivity yield this year.

“The heat is extreme this year, although we have been expecting it, as we work with the Nigerian Meteorological Agency. We know it is global warming, and we are working to see how we can mitigate the effects.”


Solomon holds an MA in journalism and communication from the Renmin University of China and a BA in mass communication from the University of Benin. He has worked as a freelance journalist for publications such as the BBC and China Dialogue. He was previously the social media editor at Channels Television in Lagos.


This article was first published in CarbonBrief.