Arab countries face climate warming reality

Region is suffering from extreme summer temperatures, which reached 54 degrees Celsius in Kuwait, cyclones in Oman and Yemen, snow in Saudi deserts.

A file photo shows sink holes on the shoreline of the Dead Sea in Jordan, showing retreating sea water line. A dry spell from 1998-2012 in the Middle East was the worst drought in 900 years. (AP)

2017/01/08 Issue: 88 Page: 21

The Arab Weekly
Samar Kadi

Beirut - While 2016 set a heat record globally, fur­ther temperature increases, reduction in rainfall, seasonal shifts and decline in agricultural activities are predicaments loom­ing over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region because of cli­mate change.

The region is suffering from extreme summer temperatures, which reached 54 degrees Celsius in Kuwait, cyclones in Oman and Yemen, snow in the Saudi deserts and drought that wiped out half the wheat crop in Morocco.

The challenges are enormous but adaptation through mitigation of sources of energy, especially water, is a prerequisite for the survival of future generations in the world’s hottest and driest region, which will be the hardest hit by changing cli­mate conditions, UN experts said.

“We can forecast a rise of 3-5 de­grees Celsius by the end of the cen­tury as a worst-case scenario. It is quite remarkable how much the temperature increase will affect us even relative to a very close baseline period from 1986 to 2005,” said Car­ol Cherfane, a senior water specialist with the Economic and Social Com­mission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

“We are also seeing increases of 30-60 days of hot weather in the re­gion towards the end of the century. While the global norm for a hot day is 25 degrees, it is 35 degrees and even more than 40 for the region,” Cherfane said.

She stressed, however, that “you can adapt to these conditions but you have to have the resources to ensure that all (vulnerable) people have the means to adapt, too”.

Countries in the region are aware of their vulnerabilities but the ef­fects will vary, with poorer, more agriculturally based economies suf­fering the most. Poorer communi­ties have fewer resources to cope with the effects of climate change.

“In our Arab region, climate change adaptation is pre-eminent. It is a water issue above anything else. It is linked to our livelihood, our food security, our health, the tourism industry, the whole gamut,” Cherfane said.

Higher temperatures will result in a shifting of seasons, with extended periods of drought, longer summers and shorter winters. “This will affect the ability of farmers to engage in production for national food securi­ty and for their personal household income. They no longer know when the season actually starts or whether they should plant their crops in Feb­ruary or in April,” Cherfane added.

Higher temperatures also lead to overuse of groundwater, more demand for more desalination and consequently salt-water intrusion into coastal aquifers, degrading wa­ter for drinking and irrigation.

While demands for agriculture, population growth and rapid ur­banisation are putting immense pressure on the region’s scarce wa­ter resources, declines in agriculture will increase rural unemployment and drive many people to already crowded cities, which will experi­ence worsening heat waves, air pol­lution and dust from land degrada­tion and desertification, Cherfane predicted.

Aware of the challenges, many Arab countries have begun adapt­ing to the new climate reality and contributing towards the global goal of lowering emissions and slowing the rise in global temperatures. Ad­aptation techniques include water harvesting schemes, larger use of solar energy, treatment and reuse of waste water, protection of ground­water aquifers and water use effi­ciency in irrigation, Cherfane said.

She noted that Lebanon was try­ing to develop lakes on top of the mountains where water can be conserved and stored. In Egypt ef­forts are under way to build wave breakers to preserve coastal instal­lations and wetlands from sea water intrusion. In Jordan, treated waste water is used in irrigation in agri­cultural areas, while Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer and consumer of desalinated water, is testing the use of solar energy in de­salination.

Morocco remains the leading Arab country in climate change adapta­tion, having built the largest solar plant in the world for generating electricity, which Rabat has linked to a water desalination plant supply­ing its arid southern area.

“We should still engage in mitiga­tion to the (highest) degree possible. Even today it will take 20-30 years for the atmosphere to change,” Cher­fane said. “Unfortunately, the short-term nature of politics looks at a 1- or 4-year terms that is influencing how life would be in generations. That is why we have to become oriented towards sustainability and not im­mediate growth.”

Cherfane also underlined that if no significant effort is made to re­duce climate change, more use of nuclear energy, which is “no carbon energy”, could be considered. “It carries different types of risks, but not having your kids able to breathe in a century and a half,” Cherfane said, “you will not have an option but to turn to such technology.”

Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.

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