Why such rainy, cold weather in the Middle East this spring?

Snowfall in the Saudi region of Tabuk in late March 2019. (SPA)
Updated 16 April 2019

Why such rainy, cold weather in the Middle East this spring?

  • Experts say the unusual weather patterns could be a sign of climate change
  • On the bright side, one company has seen a ‘surge’ in sales of winter clothes

DUBAI: Unstable weather conditions across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have left residents and experts wondering why spring in the region has felt more like winter.

From cloud seeding to climate change, a number of reasons have been attributed to the storms, rainfall and lightning that have hit the region this month.

“It’s usually warmer in April. This isn’t familiar weather in this period,” said Dr. Ahmad Habib, a meteorological expert at the National Center of Meteorology in the UAE. “It’s a period of instability for all the region.”

Last month, the Saudi General Authority for Meteorology and Environmental Protection warned of thunderstorms, dust and active winds in the southwestern city of Najran and the western city of Al-Baha.

Citizens and residents were warned of wind and dust limiting visibility, with a chance of rain and clouds in the Tabuk region, including coastal areas.

Climate experts have called the sudden change in weather “exceptional” compared to the last three years of dryness witnessed across MENA. Last week, several parts of Tunisia were hit by snow and torrential rainfall, causing fatalities. Floods and colder temperatures were also felt throughout the Levant.

“This April was exceptional in many countries, like the snow that hit Tunisia … We feel it’s exceptional because the last three years have been three successive dry years in North Africa,” said Dr. Karim Bergaoui, a climate and water-modeling scientist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

“It has been a very cold and rainy year, even in Jordan, where there were a lot of floods. This year was exceptionally wet.”

Rainfall and humidity have been high across much of the Middle East, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“The differences we’ve experienced are the result of high-level atmospheric conditions, which have brought predominantly low pressure systems over MENA,” said Dr. Rachael McDonnell, global fellow at the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska.

“This ensures that rain-bearing weather frontal systems are drawn along this area, so bringing the rain,” she added. “Normally these frontal systems are over northwest Europe, but this year they’re more southerly because the jet stream is further south.”

While Bergaoui called for more analysis, he said climate change could be one of the causes of such unstable weather conditions in the region. “We know from a climatological point of view that the sea surface temperature really affects the convective system (a collection of thunderstorms that act as a system) here, so it might be one of the causes. We need to study the sea surface temperature in the Gulf,” he added.

Dr. Taoufik Ksiksi, associate professor of biology at United Arab Emirates University, said: “We can be sure that when these extreme events become more frequent and more intense, it can be attributed to a change in climate.”




Traffic policemen push a motorcycle through a flooded street during heavy rains in Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 28, 2019. (Reuters)

He added: “We’re using more fossil fuels, and we aren’t relying enough on renewable energy. We’re changing land use from a natural ecosystem to a human-made ecosystem, and we aren’t energy efficient anymore in transportation. There are very good attempts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to change the electricity supply from coal to gas, which is a big step, but we need to do more.”

Ksiksi said: “The weather is unusual in North Africa and West Asia … Such extreme weather events, whether it’s very intense snow or rain, are out of season. You see snow in relatively mild weather periods, and floods, dust storms and colder temperatures in some parts of northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and parts of Syria, all of which are very likely the outcome of this changing climate and increased greenhouse gases.”

He added: “It has to be a common effort. We need to do more because our environmental ecosystems are fragile. We have the resources, scientifically and financially, to do something about it.”

Johnny Bowen of outdoor clothing company Great British Outfitters noted a 26 percent increase in sales of winter clothing in the region during the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period last year.

“Last month, there was a surge in sales of rainproof jackets to the UAE,” he said. “Often, the sales come when people from the UAE are going on holidays where the climate is colder. This year, we’re seeing them buy jumpers and jackets to wear in the UAE … It has been really unusual.”


A Jordanian NGO takes on social ills in Amman neighborhoods

Updated 22 February 2020

A Jordanian NGO takes on social ills in Amman neighborhoods

  • Harra aims to revive neighborhoods by encouraging residents to work collectively to improve their environment
  • Initiative has made a difference in five neighborhoods, including deprived areas in Amman

CAIRO: A local initiative in Jordan is rejuvenating neighborhoods in the kingdom’s capital, bringing together communities and encouraging residents to work collectively to improve their environment.

The Harra, an NGO which translates into “neighborhood,” has so far renovated five areas in Amman under the guidance of its founder, the social entrepreneur Mohammed Abu Amerah.

When Abu Amerah returned to Jordan after many years away in 2005, he was saddened to find his local community in disarray — epitomized by ugly concrete boxes and overflowing litter — and quickly decided to take action to reinvigorate the local area.

Abu Amerah believes that traditional “harra” life in Jordan has been compromised by Amman’s explosive growth, as it struggles to contain growing numbers of refugees from across the country’s borders.

“A class system has developed, encouraging discrimination and degradation of the community,” he said.

Abu Amerah said he was spurred into action when he heard the news that his neighbor had been shot at in a dispute over a parking space.

“The idea for Harra came to me slowly. I saw that the lack of elegant structures in the community reflected not just the public space, but also created a negative psychological space among inhabitants.”

The Harra founder said that worn-out built environments not only lack “function” but also breed discontent, insecurity and even violence.

Abu Amerah has since created a Harra “identity plan” which he uses as a guide to breathe life and renewed confidence into communities.

The Harra rejuvenation strategy, which is funded by Jordanian aid, is based around physical, environmental, educational and social aspects – which are then mobilized into the community.

It has taken Abu Amerah 12 years to successfully rejuvenate five harras in Amman: Al-Ashrafiyah, Yarmouk, Jabal Jouffah, Al-Nasr and Wihdat refugee camp, which are some of the most deprived areas in the Jordanian capital.

The Harra Initiative brings neighborhood residents together to develop and implement rehabilitation projects that address common problems.

“The rehabilitation projects ultimately lead to improving the living conditions in the neighborhood,” said Abu Amerah.

The main drive in Harra is the community itself and the need to show members of the locality how to use their power to change their own lives and those of their children and their neighborhood.

This starts with the physical rebuilding of the neighborhood, including the renovation of walls and streets, adding address numbers to houses and collecting garbage, which lasts between 12 and 14 months. But the purpose of this phase is also to build social nets in the Jordanian community.

The process of rehabilitation brings with it the creation of neighborhood associations, the establishment of recycling and energy saving projects or creating ways of generating income.

“The methodology rests on a community participatory approach, which unlocks residents’ own innovative thinking and creative energies,” said Abu Amerah. “Harra interventions are designed to foster a sense of accountability and collective ownership.”

The social entrepreneur said the benefits of the Harra programs have been very tangible. “The programs have provided the initial motivation and leadership needed to inspire change within each targeted community.

“They have also promoted recognition and sensitivity towards social, behavioral processes, cultural and economic diversity.”

Abu Amerah said that reclaiming the public space has helped to reduce violence, created a community voice and promoted social cohesion and resilience among communities.

“Creating the sense of collective ownership among residents was the biggest challenge of all,” Abu Amerah said.

“We have successfully created the voice of harra to address and influence the issues that shape our reality and future in all aspects.”

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.