Travel advisory: Working in the heat during Ramadan

Hundreds of people have died in a heatwave in Pakistan as temperatures reached 45C in the southern port city of Karachi. 

Soaring temperatures have coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 18, when Muslims fast during daylight hours.

Journalists who are not used to working in the heat or in Muslim countries during Ramadan may need to take extra precautions to ensure their health and safety. As such, INSI is reissuing the following safety advisory.

Heat and humidity add up to danger

If you are working in a hot environment the temperature is likely to affect you. Know how your body will react to heat. Heat does not only kill the elderly and the ill. It can also kill healthy young people, usually because they do not recognise the dangers of working or exercising in hot weather - especially hot, humid weather.

The combination of heat and humidity means that sweat evaporates more slowly and the body's natural cooling system does not work properly. In these conditions outdoor work becomes dangerous even for those people in good shape.

Key rules for coping with heat

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Be aware that caffeine will dehydrate you

Cover up with cotton clothing and wear a hat to protect your head and neck

Ensure you wear sun block to protect your skin

Wear light coloured clothing, as dark colours absorb the heat

Work at a slower pace to acclimatise. Try to keep air conditioning to a minimum when you arrive, as it does not help you to acclimatise

Do not work outside during the middle of the day, when it is the hottest

Allow frequent periods of rest and hydration during activity. Fluid replacement is essential to prevent heat injury

Slow down and cool off if you start feeling tired

If you have a headache, a high pulse rate or shallow breathing, go inside and rest

Diuretics and stimulants, including alcohol, may increase the risk of the effects of heat. Make sure you drink plenty of water

Monitor the colour of your urine. If your urine is yellow, dark brown or smells you are dehydrated and should drink more water. The darker your urine, the less hydrated you are. Drink enough fluids to keep your urine a very light colour

Make sure you are well hydrated before, during, and after exercise. Replenish your fluids, whether you feel thirsty or not. If you want to exercise then do so at the coolest time of the day

A general recommendation is to drink 3/4 litre of non-caffeinated fluid 2 hours before exercise. Drinking an additional small bottle (75ml) of water or sports drink right before exercise is also helpful. While you are exercising, break for a drink of water every 20 minutes

Overheating can cause serious, even life-threatening conditions such as heat stroke.

Heatstroke (can be fatal)

In some extreme cases the heat can upset the body’s thermostat, causing body temperatures to rise to 105 ºF (40 ºC) or higher. This is a very dangerous situation to be in.

The person will be lethargic, disorientated, aggressive, confused and may lapse into unconsciousness. Even a suspicion that someone might be suffering from heat stroke requires immediate medical aid.

How to avoid it

Acclimatise, acclimatise, acclimatise! It takes around five days for most people’s bodies to adapt to heat exposure in a natural environment. It may take up to 14 days for 95% of the population to have complete acclimatisation. But you can lose this acclimatisation just as quickly.

How to treat it

Get the affected person to a shaded area

Seek immediate medical assistance or take them to a doctor, clinic or hospital

Monitor their body temperature and lower it as quickly as possible by immersing them in an ice bath, if possible, or cooling them with towels or ice wrapped in towels. Apply ice packs to the armpits, groin, and neck areas

Remove as much clothing as possible

Continue cooling efforts until you can get them to medical care

Heat exhaustion

Your temperature may increase to 99 -104 ºF (37 - 40 ºC). You may experience heavy sweating and headaches, and feel light-headed, tingling sensations in your body and nauseous. You may even vomit.

Heat exhaustion is more likely after a few days of working in the heat, rather than on the first day. The best defence is to take it easy and drink plenty of water.

How to treat it

G•et the affected person to a shaded area and loosen clothing.

•Give them 1/2 tsp salt in 1 litres water, or a sports drink, or salted food plus fluid

Apply active cooling measures, such as a fan or ice towels, if they have a temperature

Try to get them to eat a carbohydrate/electrolyte beverage of 1-2 litres over 2-4 hours

Take them to a doctor to assess how to replace their fluids.

Working during Ramadan

This year, fasting began on Thursday 18 June and lasts until Saturday July 18. Some Muslim countries are stricter than others. While the following advice does not apply to all countries you may wish to err on the side of caution until otherwise advised.


Rush hour times may vary from normal, and the roads may be busy at sunrise and sunset. Tempers can fray in traffic or whilst driving due to dehydration. Many road traffic incidents happen during Ramadan due to rushing to get home or the effects of not drinking enough water.

Working with people

Remember that shorter working hours are the norm and it is likely that some things will take longer than usual.

You may find it difficult to get appointments when you want them and people may be reluctant to give interviews.

Ministries close down and shopping hours and restaurant opening times may vary. Some restaurants may only be open in the evenings.

Eating and drinking

Practicing Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.

In some areas it is unacceptable for foreigners to drink in front of Muslims in public places during Ramadan. In some countries this is punishable by arrest.

Be careful about drinking whilst driving or sitting in the car as this can also be a punishable offence in some countries.

There is absolutely no drinking alcohol. You may be able to buy alcohol in hotels but be aware that drinking it in front of your hosts could be considered rude.

Many families go to pray after sunset and then eat around 10pm. This may well be when your news broadcasts go to air, so plan your day accordingly and work out when you are going to eat and drink.

Note: This safety advisory is based on sensible guidelines for working in hot weather during Ramadan. The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist the international traveller in being prepared to work in these conditions and are not meant to be negative in nature. This is not proscriptive medical advice and if you are unsure you MUST seek assistance from a qualified medical practitioner. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems in relation to this advice.

Image by AFP