COOLING off in Bratislava.
Record-breaking temperatures have been reported in a number of places across the country since the beginning of June. Four out of 10 places monitored by the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute (SHMÚ) - including Bratislava, Piešťany, Hurbanovo, and Poprad - saw historic highs on June 11. Hurbanovo led the way with 34.7 degrees Celsius.
SHMÚ representatives said that on that day records had been broken in around a half of the cities in the south of the country. In Bratislava, residents waited impatiently for the weather to break.
"It's difficult to work. I can't breathe, I would like it to rain a little. I don't remember the last time it was so hot. Luckily, I don't have any health problems," said Ján Hruška, 50, a painter living in the capital.
Others reacted in a similar way.
"I sit in an office all day. The fans partially solve the problem. However, in the afternoon it's unbearable. I don't have any health problems yet, but I'm sure I will soon. I feel like I'm in Thailand," said Zuzana Chobotová, 23, a manager.
Despite their discomfort, most Slovaks seemed to be able to cope with the heat. None of Bratislava's major hospitals reported a significant increase in workload as a result of the high temperatures.
"So far, we have admitted the usual number of patients. People have probably learned to drink enough and they keep out of the sun at noon," said Dušan Holas, head of the emergency room at Bratislava's Petržalka Hospital.
Doctors did warn, however, that the young, the old, and people with heart problems should stay inside during the hot days, and everyone should drink 3 to 3.5 litres of water per day. They said using public transport was also risky, because the air was so hot and there was not much oxygen.
Numerous elementary schools around the country decided to cut short lessons by as much at 10 minutes each until the heatwave passed.
"You can see it in the behaviour of the children, especially those in lower grades. They are tired, more apathetic, and their main problem is getting enough liquids," said Košice teacher Eva Labišáková on Radio Express.
School principals are not obliged to report the decision to shorten classes, so it is not known how many schools decided to do so.
But while many suffered, the heat was welcomed by some, among them businessmen selling air conditioners.
"It has had a dramatic influence. People call in like crazy. We were a little surprised, and we have hardly been able to satisfy the demand," said an entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.
He estimated that from 5 to 10 percent of the city's households and between 20 and 30 percent of companies already have air conditioning, and he predicted that number would rise in coming years.
"Companies, especially, try to create decent working conditions, so that people can perform well even in these temperatures. That said, it may take as long as 20 years before the market is saturated," the businessman said.
However, not all are anxious to experience cooler working conditions.
"I like the hot weather. It is true that these are record temperatures, but warm weather is great," said Zlatica Lápošová, 42, a jewellery salesperson.
Environmental activists said the heat was linked to global warming, which may lead to even more dramatic weather changes in the future.
"Droughts and floods are caused by the drying-out of soil, which reduces the protective shield surrounding the earth," said Michal Kravčík from the NGO People and Water, according to the SITA news agency.
Kravčík pointed out that extensive urbanisation and deforestation means there is less water in the ecosystem and subsequently also in the atmosphere, providing less protection against sunlight.
The NGO has asked Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to make sure appropriate legislation is approved to prevent the mishandling of the environment.
- with Kristína Havasová
23. Jun 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila