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Members of a Kuwaiti family take a dip at a beach in Kuwait City in this August 2, 1999, file photo.

Nasser Nasser/AP

The UN weather agency says it suspects a 54-degree Celsius temperature recorded in Kuwait has set a record for the eastern hemisphere.

The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday it is setting up a committee to look into whether the temperature recorded Thursday in Mitrabah, Kuwait, was a new high for the hemisphere and in Asia. WMO's Omar Baddour says it's "likely" to be an eastern hemisphere record.

There have been a number of heat waves in recent weeks, the WMO said in a news release, with temperatures reaching as high as 38 C, and heat index values in some areas reaching 46 C.

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"At the peak on  Friday, July 22, almost 124 million people were under an Excessive Heat Warning, Excessive Heat Watch or Heat Advisory."

Last week, swaths of North Africa and the Middle East were hit by heat waves that have become more frequent over the last half-century, and Earth is fresh off the hottest six months on record.

WMO says the world record high of 56.7 Celsius was recorded at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California, in 1913.

Iraq's state-run Meteorological Department said on Saturday that it had registered the hottest day so far this year, with maximum temperatures hitting 53.9 degrees Celsius in the southern city of Basra.

Friday's merciless heat in Basra forced the majority of the residents to almost abandon the streets or to swim in the river. Increasing the residents' suffering were chronic electricity outages, caused mainly by the soaring temperatures and the decline in electricity imported from neighbouring Iran.

With files from staff

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