With motorbikes banned, Yangon delivery riders struggle in heatwave

For slogging through the energy-sapping heat, an average rider can make between 20,000 and 30,000 Myanmar kyat (US$10-15) per day

Delivery rider Than Toe Aung pedals his bicycle through a punishing heatwave in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon, where scooters and motorbikes are banned.

He can’t afford a car, and a previous junta outlawed two-wheeled motorised vehicles for “security reasons,” so the employee of the delivery app FoodPanda has no choice but to sweat his way through the streets under his own power.

A wave of exceptionally hot weather has blasted Southeast Asia in recent days, with temperatures in Yangon hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Myanmar’s weather office.

In some places, authorities have advised citizens to stay at home, but there is no rest for workers like Than Toe Aung, who relies on his bicycle for income.

“I sweat a lot when I am out working,” the 27-year-old told AFP after leaving his room for another scorching shift in the city of around 8 million people.

“The temperature is hotter these days.”

He does what he can to cover himself, wearing a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, long socks and gloves. 

He also daubs a traditional sandalwood paste called thanaka on each cheek to protect against the sun.

He alters his route to favour shadier streets and relies on watermelon to keep hydrated. 

The heat is unrelenting, but also good for business, Than Toe Aung said, as many other drivers choose to take a break, offering those ready to brave the temperatures a chance to make more. 

After several deliveries to offices and homes, he has a meal of rice and vegetables on the shaded steps of a shop. 

At every pick-up spot he searches for a shady patch. 

“Sometimes we have to wait outside for 30 minutes while they prepare the food,” he said. 

For slogging through the energy-sapping heat, an average rider will make between 20,000 and 30,000 Myanmar kyat (US$10-15) per day, he said.

FoodPanda did not respond to an AFP request for comment on whether it gives guidance to its riders in Yangon on coping with extreme weather.

The heatwave is causing havoc in the city, where a creaky and outdated electricity grid struggles to keep fans whirling and air conditioners humming during the hot season. 

“This year is the worst,” a 37-year-old pedal-powered trishaw driver told AFP in western Yangon. 

“I can’t ride even if passengers come at noon… I got a fever for two days last week after riding in the sun.”

He said his earnings were down as people were avoiding going outdoors during the day. 

“I stay under shady trees near the gate and join only when it is my turn,” he said.

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