Experts predicting hotter summers in the Middle East

Sunday 21/08/2016
Youths take advantage of a public shower to cool off from the summer heat, in Baghdad, Iraq, last June.

London - NASA reported that this past July was the hot­test month in history. In Kuwait, an extraor­dinary heatwave saw temperatures reach 54 degrees Cel­sius, which would be the highest temperature recorded in the East­ern Hemisphere.

In Iraq the Washington Post chronicled how people were deal­ing with the heat: Baghdad’s streets emptied at the peak of the day, peo­ple bought large blocks of ice and the Tigris river was crawling with swimming children.

The dark side of the heatwave is that crops were wiped out and el­derly people collapsed due to dehy­dration and exhaustion.

The conflicts across the region have forced millions from their homes and did untold damage to both state and society. The perils of climate change could pose a bigger threat to the region. Serious discus­sions on how to meet the challenge need to take place.

Researchers put this dilemma in stark terms when they predicted that the Middle East and North Af­rica could become so hot that hu­man habitability is compromised. If that part of the world becomes uninhabitable, then the prospect of a cataclysmic migration crisis be­comes very real indeed.

In 2015, more than 1 million peo­ple illegally entered Europe leading politicians and the media to label it the continent’s “migration crisis”.

It is worth remembering that more than 500 million people live in the Middle East and North Africa and the United Nations predicted that the combined population of 22 Arab countries will grow from about 400 million to nearly 600 million by 2050.

A recent Economist feature noted that the Middle East’s environmen­tal problems are predominantly man-made and likely to worsen. In Basra, most of the wetlands and orchards have turned to desert. In­creasing numbers of sandstorms are being seen as a result of pro­longed droughts; sea level change is threatening the Egyptian coastline and irresponsible dam construction has placed a premium around the availability of regional water with Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, likely to run out of water by 2019.

The effects of desertification or over-farming have had a multitude of effects on the region. In a fasci­nating piece for the Chatham House journal International Affairs, Pro­fessor Raymond Hinnebusch wrote on how climate change, in particu­lar a sustained drought and a de­cline in rural investment, increased the pace of urbanisation, formed part of the context for the 2011 up­rising in Syria.

Many in the region are able to hide from the heat in air-condi­tioned offices or homes, but spare a thought for refugees or the inter­nally displaced, many of whom live in tents. The Middle East is home to 39% of the world’s refugees and far too many are exposed to the in­creasing temperature extremes that the region is witnessing.

However, against such a bleak backdrop it is worth remembering that adjusting to a tough climate has been a characteristic of the inhabitants of the region. As the World Bank has explained, despite the Middle East being vulnerable to climate change, people “have developed various technical solu­tions and institutional mechanisms to deal with these environmental constraints”.

Nevertheless, the urgencies of the Middle East’s multiple crises make us focus on the now. Put sim­ply, without a vision for dealing with the future, there may be no future. To avoid this strategic and hugely populated part of the planet becoming a dead zone with all the associated issues of mass displace­ment there needs to be serious in­vestment — both in terms of money and political will — in preparing for a different future.

Multilateral bodies such as the United Nations, the Gulf Coopera­tion Council and the Arab League must find renewed impetus to wa­ter management schemes, mass roll out of renewable energy projects, particularly solar and wind, a move away from the traditional fossil fuel industry and creating plans for sus­tainable cities with particular re­gard to transport infrastructure.

The dramatic decline in oil prices has led to more urgent efforts to­wards diversification in many of the region’s economies and there needs to be clear reference for these plans being able to survive the cli­mate projections for the future. The European Union, considering its in­terests in preventing further waves of mass migration, will have to be a central player as it must realise how interconnected this issue is.

Behind the bombs and the bul­lets, the steady rise of temperatures in the region and the spectre of the Middle East becoming uninhabit­able could act as a unifying chal­lenge to a population too often be­set by division and conflict. As the cliché goes: To preserve tomorrow we must act today.