Climate scientists have long identified the Middle East to be one of the world’s worst affected climate change regions in the present time and future, given our overheating planet threatens to increase summer temperatures from Syria to Yemen and everywhere in between at a rate twice the global average.
These warnings and prediction of climate induced upheaval and chaos come closer into view after Baghdad and Damascus each posted record breaking temperatures in the last week of July, with Baghdad hitting 125 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, July 28, and Damascus 120 degrees on Wednesday, July 29, while Lebanon came within a whisker of recording its highest ever temperature on Sunday, August 2.
Further exacerbating the misery throughout Iraq and elsewhere is the fact that surging demands for air-conditioning is causing power outages, and leaving the desperately hot to take refuge in their cars and even public fountains.
“The heat is unbearable,” Ahmed Hashim, a 30-year-old Baghdad resident, told The New York Times. “There’s a psychological pressure, people can easily get into a fight.”
According to a 2018 study, the Middle East will experience extreme temperatures of greater than 115 degrees five times more often by 2050 than they were at the start of the current century. According to a newly published study in the journal Science Advances, the emergence of rising heat and rising humidity is making an increasing portion of the earth’s surface too severe for human tolerance.
“Humans’ ability to efficiently shed heat has enabled us to range over every continent, but a wet-bulb temperature (TW) of 35°C marks our upper physiological limit.”
“Humans’ ability to efficiently shed heat has enabled us to range over every continent, but a wet-bulb temperature (TW) of 35°C marks our upper physiological limit, and much lower values have serious health and productivity impacts,” observe the authors of the report.
By the end of the century, these “wet-bulb” temperatures threaten to make the Middle East, particularly the Gulf region, uninhabitable. A separate study by the American Heart Association and published in the journal Science Daily in March found a direct correlation between extreme heat and cardiovascular death.
“In Kuwait, a country known for hot weather, death certificates reveal that on days when the temperatures reached extremes of an average daily temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease dramatically increased,” the report cites.
When temperatures hit their zenith in Baghdad on August 2, again hitting 125 degrees Fahrenheit, the city’s electricity grid gave out and protesters took to the streets to express their anger towards embattled Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has failed to deliver on his promise to restore public services and end Iran’s kleptocratic control of the Iraqi state.
When temperatures hit their zenith in Baghdad on August 2, again hitting 125 degrees Fahrenheit, the city’s electricity grid gave out and protesters took to the streets.
There’s now an abundance of evidence pointing to how climate change is making the Middle East even more politically volatile. As unprecedented temperatures work hand-in-hand with unprecedented drought, an ever-increasing number of farmers and rural villagers are abandoning their lands for the promise of opportunity in the cities. But rapid urbanization sparks rapid inflation, overcrowding, increased competition for jobs and resources, and thus creating fertile ground for political discontent and ultimately conflict.
Climate change induced declines in rainfall is compounding the region’s woes with heat and humidity, with increased evaporation contributing towards a drastic fall in the availability of fresh water from the Tigris and Euphrates. A study conducted by NASA found that the two great river systems lost 144 cubic kilometres of fresh water, the equivalent of the volume of the Dead Sea, in the seven years spanning 2003 to 2010.
“The Middle East just does not have that much water to begin with, and it’s a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change,” said Jay Famiglietti, a principal investigator in the NASA study. “Those dry areas are getting dryer. The Middle East and the world’s other arid regions need to manage available water resources as best they can.”
Drier conditions, soaring temperatures, and longer summers are adding frequency and ferocity to the region’s notorious sandstorms.
Drier conditions, soaring temperatures, and longer summers are adding frequency and ferocity to the region’s notorious sandstorms, which not only cause severe health problems but also damages to critical infrastructure.
Clearly the consequences of an overheating planet are now being felt and felt hard in the Middle East, and thus demanding a more urgent and effective response from the region’s leaders and international community.
Sagatom Saha, an independent energy policy analyst, points out that climate adaption projects targeting climate prone countries “can go a long way to preventing violence-induced scarcity before it occurs.” Saha proposes that the United Nations Green Climate Fund should expand its projects in the region which focus on the “climate resilience of water, riparian costal resilience, and arid irrigated agriculture.”
Saha also urges the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to “redouble its effort on innovation with a specific focus on deploying technologies in the Middle East that would alleviate resource scarcities before they arise,” and recommends the construction of more affordable desalination projects and encouragement of less water intensive agricultural practices.
Oil-rich Arab Gulf countries are resistant to climate change friendly policies since their wealth and security is derived from the extraction of carbon emitting fossil fuels
Oil-rich Arab Gulf countries are resistant to climate change friendly policies, however, since their wealth and security is derived from the extraction of carbon emitting fossil fuels and the purchasing appetite of their foreign clients. Moreover, those who reside in the palatial mansions of Riyadh and Dubai enjoy uninterrupted air-conditioning and access to private jets that can whisk them away to foreign resort locations at the first sign of political unrest, and thus green friendly initiatives are of no interest or benefit to them.
Then there’s also the education gap. A study conducted by Princeton University found, unsurprisingly, that countries with a lower rate of public education experienced a lower rate of climate activism.
“Concerns with environmental issues – climate change, air quality, water pollution, and trash – are greater for individuals with higher levels of education, as compared to individuals with lower levels of education,” Dr. Jeremy Green, a lead researcher on the study, told The New Arab.
Obviously, none of this augurs well for the Middle East, and thus it’s likely the region will continue to fracture and fight over dwindling resources as it bakes under unliveable and unsustainable climatic conditions.