MENA countries particularly vulnerable to climate change

Sunday 16/07/2017
Dousing the heat. An Iraqi man uses an open-air shower to cool off from the summer heat in Baghdad. (AP)

London - Scientists said Middle East­ern and North African (MENA) countries are par­ticularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, with one study predicting a mass exodus this century as condi­tions in the region become uninhab­itable.

A report titled “Climate-exodus Expected in the Middle East and North Africa” by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cy­prus institute in Nicosia included predictions of a ten-fold increase in heatwaves across the region by the end of the century, and night tem­peratures of more than 30 degrees Celsius.

Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute and professor at the Cyprus Institute, said other studies project similar outcomes.

“All climate models are in agree­ment, being consistent with ob­servations, that heat extremes will further increase in the Middle East during summer,” Lelieveld wrote via e-mail.

“It is clear that the frequency of very hot summers is already in­creasing and recently temperature records are broken almost every year.”

From 1986-2005, it was “unusu­ally hot” for an average period of 16 days per year in the Middle East. Lelieveld’s study projected this fig­ure to reach 80 days by mid-century and up to 118 by its end.

Benjamin Cook, NASA scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, explained why the MENA region is particularly vulnerable.

“The Middle East sits in a region that 1) already suffers from water scarcity and extreme heat and 2) both of these things are expected to get worse with climate change. Higher temperatures mean, of course, more frequent and intense heat extremes and heat waves but also increased evaporation from the surface, which will exacerbate water deficits,” he said.

“Because the Middle East is dry and already hot in summer, temper­ature extremes have more impact. Moreover, the dryness prevents cooling by evapotranspiration, which is typical for many other en­vironments,” Lelieveld said.

A report published in June by Brit­ish think-tank Chatham House said climate hazards pose serious risks to MENA food imports.

The Turkish Straits, the Suez Ca­nal, the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el Mandeb are traversed by exceptional volumes of trade and are under increasing threat from climate change-induced variables, such as storms, floods and weather-related damage to infrastructure.

MENA countries, the report said, were the world’s most dependent on food imports and would likely suffer greatly from disruptions to the system.

“Climate change will exacerbate already poor [crop] growing condi­tions, increasing the region’s reli­ance on international trade to meet basic food demand,” said Laura Wellesley, research associate and co-author of the Chatham House re­port. “This renders the MENA region exposed to climate-driven food sup­ply shocks elsewhere in the world.”

Jordan, Israel, Libya, Lebanon, Al­geria, Iraq and Tunisia join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on a list of the 20 countries most exposed to maritime choke point disruption worldwide, the study said.

Just more than one-third of grain imports into the region pass through at least one maritime choke point for which there is no alternative and exports are dependent on the func­tionality of the Turkish Straits.

Evidence suggests rising sea levels caused by climate change are likely to cause more severe and frequent storms and “may bring cyclone ac­tivity to the Strait of Hormuz,” the study said. That could be a disaster for the GCC, which depends on the strait for nearly all wheat imports.

The results of regular climate dis­ruptions to these junctures could be particularly damaging for poor countries such as Yemen.

“A big concern for import-de­pendent countries, like those in the MENA region, is the growing likeli­hood of coincident extreme weather events that disrupt food produc­tion or trade in multiple parts of the world, risking supply shortages and price spikes on a scale we haven’t seen before,” Wellesley said.

Cook was reluctant to back any particular solutions to climate is­sues but stressed that addressing the threat of drought was a priority.

“Certainly, anything that increas­es resilience to drought (e.g. im­proved irrigation efficiency, reduc­tions in water waste) will help,” he said.

Lelieveld backs innovative de­sign: “[We should] help prevent in­creasing carbon dioxide emissions and better prepare cities, which are also subject to the ‘urban heat is­land effect,’ to high-temperature ex­tremes. This involves city planning as well as buildings.”

When it comes to food security, collaboration is key, Wellesley said.

“Collaborative approaches to managing the challenges of climate change and choke point risk will be important for the MENA region. One option is to agree on regional stor­age arrangements through which countries may spread both the costs and risks of strategic stocks,” she said.

MENA governments are acutely aware of the threats that climate change poses but, as studies indi­cate, a collaborative strategy is nec­essary to avoid disaster.