Middle East turmoil affects environment

Friday 11/09/2015
Human factor. Yemenis cut branches from a tree for firewood near Sana’a,
on August 6th.

London - It is a time of major chaos across the Middle East, with conflicts leading to unprec­edented mass displacement following the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS). This dis­turbing state of affairs is having a major effect on the environment, with fears about water security and air pollution on the rise.
Analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) indicated that the Middle East is among the least water secure regions in the world with the majority of Arab countries predicted to face “extremely high” water stress by 2040.
Using a series of climate models and socioeconomic scenarios, WRI predicted that Bahrain, Kuwait, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Ara­bia, Oman and Lebanon would face major water shortages in the coming decades. Sixteen Arab countries could be among the top 33 least water secure countries by 2040, the analysis determined.
“The region, already arguably the least water secure in the world, draws heavily upon groundwater and desalinated sea water and fac­es exceptional water-related chal­lenges for the foreseeable future,” the report authors said.
Water shortage will compound political unrest in the region. The WRI report says the current un­rest can, in part, be traced to water shortages.
“Drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the un­rest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resourc­es and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas and magnify Syria’s general destabilisation,” the report said.
Fears about regional water se­curity were raised after another report, published in Science Ad­vances, showed that the Syrian ref­ugee crisis caused a massive spike in nitrogen dioxide emissions in Lebanon.
The report showed that while emissions of nitrogen dioxide — a greenhouse gas — had been on the rise throughout the Middle East until 2011, emissions have sub­sequently trended downward in conflict areas. Nitrogen dioxide, a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels, is considered a reliable indi­cator of economic activity.
“A combination of air qual­ity control and political factors, including economical crisis and armed conflict, has drastically alerted the emission landscape of nitrogen oxides in the Middle East,” the study said. The research used data from the Ozone Meas­urement Instrument on NASA’s Aura research satellite.
The study showed that nitrogen dioxide emissions in Baghdad and central Iraq decreased substan­tially since 2013, including in Tikrit and Samarra that have been occu­pied by ISIS.
“The armed conflict in this area has left marks, including a decrease in nitrogen oxide emis­sions,” the study said.
In Syria, nitrogen oxides over Damascus and Aleppo decreased 40-50% since 2011, coincident with the uprising, the report added.
During the same period, there was a drastic increase in nitrogen dioxide emissions over Lebanon due to the ensuing refugee crisis.
Emissions over Beirut and Trip­oli had been increasing by 3-4% a year until 2013, in line with the rest of the region. But after millions of Syrian refugees fled to the coun­try, nitrogen oxide emissions in­creased 20-30%.
Jos Lelieveld, lead author of the study and a researcher at Ger­many’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, told Reuters: “People are migrating away [from Iraq and Syria]. And also activities are com­ing to a halt. But as for other coun­tries that take on refugees, such as Jordan and Lebanon… there we see increases.”
He warned people not to get too excited about the overall decrease in air pollution across the Middle East. “This is not the ‘silver lin­ing’ of war. It’s just an indicator of what’s going on,” he said.