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Jamaican higglers feeling the heat

As temperatures sore across the Caribbean, they are affecting both the profits and mental health of market vendors in Jamaica.

As global temperatures rise, the most vulnerable communities bear the brunt of climate change impacts.

In downtown Kingston’s Coronation Market, higglers (market vendors) are facing not only the economic and physical toll of extreme heat but also significant mental health challenges, highlighting the urgent need for climate justice.

Shrivelled vegetables, overripe fruits, and profusely sweating higglers paint a vivid picture of the reality for some vendors in the market, especially over the past few weeks.

Here, many lament that the heat has left them feeling fatigued, while others complain they are losing money as their sun-scorched crops are selling at reduced prices, resulting in financial strain.

A 37-year-old higgler who asked to be identified as “Rolley,” lamented that he feels sad when he must reduce the price of his corn, due to them being affected by the heat.

“The people dem a say it shrivel up a way, so me have to sell it cheaper than normal,” he said.

He also complained that he is losing profits as he purchases the corn at a set price from farmers, but, according to him, they lose value once exposed to the sun.

Rolley said he believes the temperatures are getting hotter each week, also noting that he is concerned about his health.

“Depends on how the load a run, me deh here from Sunday to Sunday…me sweat hard, and more time it make all yuh (blood) pressure go up,” he said.

Twenty-four-year-old Showen Shaw, who said he has been working in the market for years, has a similar cry.

He described the heat he has been feeling over the past few weeks as stressful.

“More while, me just tired and stressed out. Me affi a buy bare water fi drink,” Shaw said. He also shared that he spends a lot of time shifting around his watermelons, which, he said, often spoil because of the heat.

This is a big loss, as he can no longer sell them to customers when they are spoiled.

A clinical psychologist for the Caribbean Alliance of National Psychological Associations, Peter Weller, in his “Caribbean Climate and Mental Health Responders Course”, suggested that heat, specifically, can cause anxiety, while droughts often contribute to chronic mental health impacts.
This aligns with the experiences of higglers like Rolley and Shaw, who report increased stress and health issues.

Likewise, Managing Director for the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network, Bathsheba Shaw, agrees that changes in the natural environment can lead to some significant effects on human life.

“…if other compounding variables include threats to individuals’ livelihood in this context, paired with psychological discomfort, individuals can have highly stressful experiences which ultimately impacts a person’s mental health negatively,” she said.

Forty-one-year-old Lisa Beacon, who stays in Coronation Market from Tuesdays to Fridays, also shared her woes with the heat and said although the nights get cool, the daytime is often unbearable.

“Night nuh hot, but during the day it is very, very hot. We have to buy more juice and
more water. I can’t help it cause the time is hot and we have to take down some of the heat,” she said.

Beacon also shared that she noticed how the heat is affecting her health.

“Sometimes me tuntid [get dizzy] from the heat, and me have to wait and not go inna the sun til it cool down,” the mother of three said. She added that although her job is hard, and sometimes affects her health, she makes the sacrifice to be in the market to provide for her family.

Intern at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Melissa Arthurs, said several health issues can arise from overexposure to heat.

“There is a significant correlation between heat stress and a rise in blood pressure. Sustained rise in blood pressure over time will be defined as hypertension, so there is a link,” she said.

“The dizziness, however, may not be a direct sign of hypertension, but is likely to be a sign of dehydration,” she continued.

Dr Arthurs also said she believes higher temperatures do affect the mental health of vendors.

Despite claims of a heatwave, Principal Director of the Meteorological Services of Jamaica, Evan Thompson clarified that Jamaica is experiencing a warm spell.

“Temperatures would have to be above a certain number of degrees, maybe above five degrees, above the normal, and that would have to extend over three days consistently,” he said. However, he acknowledged that recent high temperatures combined with increased humidity make conditions feel more severe.

The plight of higglers like Rolley and Shaw is part of a broader issue, the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities that have contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite their minimal role in causing climate change, these communities face severe disruptions to their livelihoods and well-being, which is evident throughout the Caribbean.

Climate justice requires a concerted effort from both global and local actors. While international bodies must work to reduce global emissions, national and local governments need to implement strategies that protect and support their most vulnerable citizens.

In Jamaica, this could mean investing in infrastructure to mitigate heat effects and ensuring that market vendors have the resources they need to adapt.

This story was originally published by Loop Jamaica, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.

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Delisa McLean

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