The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Capitalism and Climate Change Damage Nepali Workers

Jan 9, 2023

Suraj Thapa Magar, a 28-year-old who left his mud hut in Nepal to install windows on skyscrapers in Kuwait, often dangled from a rope in scorching 120-degree heat. Now he suffers from end-stage kidney disease. There is a growing epidemic of permanent kidney damage among young Nepali workers. These workers labored in other countries doing construction or other outdoor jobs in very hot conditions that ended up wrecking their kidneys.

Nepal is a small and poor country. Most young men have no choice but to work in other countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Qatar. Those who stay in Nepal to work earn a bag of rice a day, worth less than one dollar, by cutting grass and hauling bags of sand. By working abroad, they are able to send back $150 or so of their earnings to help their families buy fish to eat and other necessities.

For centuries, Nepalese have left their homeland to work. In 1985, Nepal’s government began regulating overseas employment and a private labor recruitment industry flourished. Recruiters sent men to work in construction, manufacturing and agriculture in Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf. Workers pay $1,000 or more to these recruitment agencies. Last year, remittances made up 22% of Nepal’s economy.

In recent years, scientists and groups including the International Labor Organization have increasingly warned about the deadly link between exposure to extreme heat and chronic kidney disease. That link has been observed among workers laboring in rice fields in Sri Lanka, in steamy factories in Malaysia, and from Central America to the Persian Gulf.

As the world grows hotter and climate change produces more frequent and more extreme heat waves, public health experts fear kidney disease cases will soar among workers who have no choice but to work outdoors.

Medical researchers have long understood how heat can damage kidneys. When the body becomes severely dehydrated, the result is the production of urine which has high concentrations of minerals, like calcium, and waste products. This can lead to the formation of crystals. Over time these crystals scar and cripple the microscopic tubes in the kidneys. Often workers only drink on their breaks, giving them little hope of replacing all the water they are losing.

Workers are left needing dialysis three times a week and a new kidney. All of this is very expensive. Once-healthy young men are removed from the economy and end up stressing an already over-burdened healthcare system.

Most scientists agree that human activity is warming the planet at a faster rate. More specifically, the drive for profit at any cost is also driving temperatures up. Right now, climate change might be more keenly felt in some of the world’s hottest places like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf. But climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching effects. It is not likely that anyone or any place will be spared as time goes on.