Cooling Botswana’s heatwave culture

Botswana’s heatwave culture is expecting profuse sweating at 7am in the morning. It’s the slight annoyance of a person in a minibus refusing to open windows. It’s taking an umbrella, not for the chance of rain, but for the protection against the sun’s ultra-viole(n)t rays. But the ultimate heat culture? That’s complaining about how hot it is on social media and blaming it on the unaccounted sins, or the abandonment of religious belief.

While temperatures steadily increase the hottest continent on the planet, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has estimated a rising potential in heat related deaths. Botswana is facing a high emissions scenario of heat related deaths in the elderly (65+) with a projected increase in about 136 deaths per 100 000 by 2080 compared to 3 deaths per 100 000 between 1962 and 1990. The UNDP also suggests that emissions could decrease to 20 deaths per 100 000 in 2080 if there is a rapid reduction in global emissions (which stresses the need for all countries to ratify to the Paris Agreement.)

It was recorded last year that three of seven elderly people admitted to one of the hospitals in Northern Botswana died from heat stroke, others shown symptoms of a heat-related ailment. While Botswana has a drafted national climate change policy, it is not directly inclusive of means to adaptation to heat, to reduce heat related illnesses.

While Botswana has created a policy riddled with mitigation and adaptation plans on climatic issues, the policy put emphasis on public awareness and education when it comes to climate related health. For example, public education campaigns on malaria, early warning systems to prepare citizens for expected droughts and heat waves are already in motion. However, the government can look into new technologies that can create a “cooler” society.

While we missed out on the opportunity to green the economy with the Economic Stimulus Programme, Botswana’s increasing infrastructural development, architectural designs have the potential to be in the center of adaptation plans. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a simpler approach to cooling their urban areas. As they were facing a large challenge of Heat islands (an urban area significantly warmer than its surroundings based on human activity), cooling strategies  such as increasing trees & vegetation along streets, using paving materials on sidewalks and green roofing can in turn counter the amount of heat in the atmosphere. According to EPA, planned vegetation along areas of high density population not only helps against soil erosion but can also provide shade and cooling through evapotranspiration.

Example of a traditional hut from Southern parts of Botswana.

Climate conscious architecture should be a strong determining factor in the face of infrastructure for the developing nation, with Passive Design architecture in mind, and perhaps, advancing historical architectural designs.  While Thatch huts are being phased out through development, their aesthetically pleasing nature is not only eco-friendly but also ensures a cooler house in the Summer and Warmer Winter. Although Thatched roofs has become an expensive, labour intensive commodity, there needs to me more pursuant studies on advancing Botswana’s most common traditional housing design.

Ultimately, while we cannot physically control the rising temperature, it is possible to physically create cooling systems that can create cooler urban areas and temperate rural areas through thinking green when thinking infrastructural development. This way, Botswana can boost its measures against the rise of heat-related illnesses.