Iran on Tuesday announced a two-day public holiday in response to “unprecedented” heat, ordering all government agencies, banks and schools to shut down, an unusual move prompted by soaring temperatures that threatened public health and strained the country’s power grid.
The nationwide shutdown will run from Wednesday to Thursday, as temperatures exceeded 123 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) in some southwestern cities. And the Iranian Health Ministry advised older people, children and those with underlying health conditions to stay indoors because of the risk of heat strokes. Iran’s soccer league also canceled all games in the next few days because of the heat.
“Given the unprecedented heat in the coming days and to protect public health, the cabinet has agreed with the Health Ministry’s recommendation for a nationwide shutdown on Wednesday and Thursday,” Ali Bahadori Jahromi, the government spokesman, said in a post on Twitter.
Temperatures were well above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday in more than a dozen Iranian cities, and in the capital, Tehran, they were expected to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 39 degrees Celsius) in the coming days, according to Iran’s meteorological organization.
Iran, a geographically diverse country with mountains and high-altitude terrain that can experience cooler weather, has not been known to shut down the country because of heat. Hot summers are typical in Tehran and the country’s southern cities.
Neighboring Iraq extended public holidays last year to protect employees from 125-degree weather. And in Egypt, officials have been cutting the power at least once a day during the recent heat wave because they do not have enough energy to power the grid. The Cairo government advised buildings and sports stadiums to cut back on air conditioning and lights, and most government employees were told to work from home on Sundays to save electricity.
Iran’s shutdown comes as a heat wave has gripped the Asian, European and North American continents this summer, with July becoming the hottest month ever recorded. Scientists have concluded that human-induced climate change is fueling the high temperatures.
The Middle East, with its shrinking water sources and long stretches of desert, has been hit particularly hard, as its population experience water shortages and sporadic power cuts. In June, Iran changed government employees’ summer office hours so that they could start and end earlier to save energy.
But drought and the systematic mismanagement of water resources have exacerbated the heat crisis for many Iranians. Poverty and the lack of infrastructure in rural areas like Sistan and Baluchestan Province have prevented residents from being able to afford air-conditioners and from getting access to clean drinking water.
Electricity usage was expected to hit a record high across Iran as people turn to air-conditioners, according to the Ministry of Energy. As of Tuesday, at least two power plants had gone off the grid, and power cuts have been reported in some cities, raising concern that the closures were meant to prevent more problems with the grid, according to local news reports.
Many Iranians took to social media to dispute the government’s reasoning for the shutdown, saying it could not meet the expected demand for electricity.
Trust in the government has eroded significantly in the aftermath of an uprising that began last September demanding the end of the Islamic Republic’s rule. Protests erupted across the country because of the death of a young woman in the custody of the morality police after she was accused of violating the mandatory hijab law, and as security forces unleashed a violent crackdown.
“The reason for the closures tomorrow and the day after is not the heat,” tweeted Marziye Mahmoodi, an editor of Tejarat News, a financial daily newspaper. “The super power of the region doesn’t have electricity!”
Ataollah Hafezi, a political scientist, also tweeted that the closings “could be for any other reason except for unprecedented heat.”
Experts have said that Iran’s electricity infrastructure is old and needs foreign investments for upgrades. But that is nearly impossible because of U.S. sanctions.
A spokesman for the Energy Ministry, Mostafa Rajabi Mashhadi, told local news outlets that the ministry was considering requesting more shutdowns in the coming weeks because of the strain on the electrical grid.
Vivian Yee contributed reporting.
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