The Hottest Inhabited Places on Earth

Recently we got to house sit at the home of an American Embassy couple while they were on vacation in the US. They had a pool, American tv, and air conditioners in every room. We didn't get a vacation this year, so the five weeks we spent at their house constituted a "working vacation" for us. We were able to take 4 or 5 days off from the office each week and rest a bit.

One of the things I found at the Embassy home was the World Reference Atlas (2007 edition). In the back of the atlas were lists of extremes: the largest countries in the world, the poorest countries in the world, the most populous countries, the usual types of lists you would expect with the usual culprits in the lists. One list I found unusual and fascinating. It was a list of the hottest inhabited places in the world. I discovered some very interesting bits of information. And I had one of my greatest suspicions confirmed: Niamey (where we live) is one of the hottest inhabited places on earth as measured by the average annual temperature!!!!!!!!!! Surprised? I'm not.

Now it's true that there are probably small places that didn't make it into the worldwide statistics for hottest places. We know of two places in Niger, for instance, that consistently average slightly hotter than Niamey. And there may be at least one place in Mali, the neighboring country that is hotter on average.

It's also true that there are places hotter than Niamey during certain times of the year. Right now, for instance, it is positively balmy here in Niamey. The temperature at 4 p.m. was 84F (29C). That really isn't all that hot, either for here or for some places in the US in the summer. The reason for the cool weather is that we've had almost 3 inches of rain in the past 36 hours. When it rains, it cools the temperature down considerably. In places where it doesn't rain much in the summer (like Iraq or Saudi Arabia), it is much hotter than in Niamey right now.

Another thing that is probably true is that there are places where it feels hotter than Niamey because the humidity is much higher than here. I'm sure New Delhi feels much hotter at this time of year because heat and humidity combined make the heat seem much more intense (it's called heat index). Niamey is very dry much of the year, which makes the heat more bearable. But from May to October, it is quite humid here, and it feels very heavy even when it's relatively cool.

Also, we're not talking here about places that are virtually uninhabitable. Places in the Arabian Desert or the Sahara are probably hotter than Niamey. Indeed, the highest temperature ever recorded in the world was 136F (57.5C) in the modern country of Libya. That was on 13 Sept 1922. In the US the hottest temperature recorded was in Deat Valley, California on 10 Jul 1913: 134F (56.5C). But those places are sparsely inhabited precisely because the heat makes them practically inhospitable to life, and so they are not included in the statistics.

So, what we're talking about is average annual temperature only. And we're excluding small towns and places that are very sparsely inhabited.

So, where does Niamey stand? Well, it's tied for fourth hottest inhabited place in the world and second hottest capital city in the world. Here is the list with average annual temperature:

1. Djibouti 86F (30C)

If you don't know where this is, pull out your atlas.

2. Timbuktu, Mali 84.7F (29.3C)

(tie) Tirunelveli, South India

(tie) Tuticorin, South India

3. Nellore, South India 84.5F (29.2C)

(tie) Santa Marta, Colombia

4. Aden, Yemen 84F (28.9C)

(tie) Madurai, South India

(tie) NIAMEY

5. Hodeita, Yemen 83.8F (28.8C)
(tie) Ougadougou, Burkina Faso
Thanjavur, South India
Tiruchchirappalli, South India

Now, I hope you're getting the picture here. With one exception, the hottest inhabited places in the world are grouped in three general locations: the Horn of Africa around the Gulf of Aden, the Sahel of Africa (the southern fringe of the Sahara), and southern India. We live in the Sahel of Africa.

Now, I've updated my blog page, and I've tried to put an icon on there that gives you the actual temperature in Niamey. You should be able to see what the temperature here is whenever you consult my blog. You can also go to Weather Underground to check out some of these other places. Have fun!!

And remember us as we live in one of the hottest places on earth.


Daniel and Sumeyla

Our son Daniel grew up in Tera, Niger. His best friend there was Soumeyla, our houselady's son. They lived just two doors down from us. Daniel and Soumeyla are the same age (19 in 2008) and have similar personalities and tastes. Both are quiet and love the outdoors. Both love sports. They speak Songhai with each other and Soumeyla knows quite a bit of English both from studying it in school and also from hearing us use it. But the differences in culture and religion (Soumeyla is a Muslim) and especially in education form a huge gulf between them.

At age four

We just learned that Soumeyla passed his exams to enter high school. No, I did not say that wrong. At 19, he will be entering high school. This is the result of the school system in Niger which is partly inherited from the French. Let
With friends at age five. Soumeyla is on the right.
me explain. At the end of primary school (the equivalent of 6th grade in the US), all the students take exams. A certain percentage of the students who make the top grades will go on to junior high school (which in Niger is called college). Most students do not pass the exam. But they have the option of taking 6th grade over and retaking the exam the following year. If they fail to pass, they may take 6th grade over a third time. If after three tries, they fail to pass the exam, they are out of the education system and cannot go on with their education. They must find some kind of trade or go back to farming or go into the army or police force. There are few other options. I don't know the exact percentages, but most people who start elementary school never go on to junior high school (college).

Eating fish sandwiches. The fish were caught in the Tera lake.
Soumeyla is on the left. (2003?)

If, however, the student finally passes his primary exams and moves on to college, s/he has another four years to prove himself or herself. He or she may be as old as 14 or 15 when they enter college. At the end of four years of college, there is another exam. As was the case for primary school, there is another exam to determine if a student can pass on to high school. Again, most students don't pass the exam. And again, if they do not pass, they may retake the exam two more times after redoing the final year of college.
Daniel and Suzanne with Genda and Soumeyla (on right)--2004.

Now I don't know how many times Soumeyla took the primary exams, but I do know that he failed to pass the college exams twice even though he was one of the top students in his class. At the beginning of last school year, his mother pleaded with us to find a job for him or some way for him to continue his education. After some thought, we remembered that a Christian friend of ours ran a private college in Tera. Would he be willing to bring Soumeyla into his school to redo the last year of college and try one last time to pass the exam? He would, and we paid for Soumeyla's tuition (75,000 francs, which translates to about $187.50). Our friend, the director of the school, thought he could easily pass the exam given his grades in last class. Well, Soumeyla finally made it. He now has the chance to get to university. But first, he has to get through the three years of high school (called lycee in French). At the end of lycee he has another exam to take, and, you guessed it, he has three tries to pass that exam. So, if he gets to university, he could be as old as 24 before he starts. That is the system here.
Renting bicycles to ride around Tera. Soumeyla is on Daniel's
right. Jeremy Slager is on the far right in the picture. 2006.

When Daniel first started school, Nancy home-schooled him. At that time, Soumeyla's mom asked us if we couldn't home school Soumeyla along with Daniel. Should we have done so? Did we make a mistake in not doing so? That is a big, unanswerable question. How do you know what is right? Could we (or should we) have supported Soumeyla throughout his schooling? Would it have benefitted Soumeyla to do that or would it have made it harder for him to adapt back to his home country's educational system? Would he have had a better education? Probably, but would it have been the best thing for him? It's easy to look back and second guess. It's not so easy to decide on the spot. There are many factors and variables.
Soumeyla and Daniel in 2007 just before Daniel left Niger.
In any case, we're very happy that Soumeyla has made it to lycee and has a chance to move on with his education. He will get at least three more years of schooling, and that should help him find a better job and better working conditions.