What increasingly hot and dusty Middle East summers mean for public health, productivity and energy demand

Special Men stand underneath a roadside shower along Sinak street in Baghdad to cool off due to extremely high temperature rises amid a heatwave. (AFP)
Men stand underneath a roadside shower along Sinak street in Baghdad to cool off due to extremely high temperature rises amid a heatwave. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2022

What increasingly hot and dusty Middle East summers mean for public health, productivity and energy demand

What increasingly hot and dusty Middle East summers mean for public health, productivity and energy demand
  • Region expected to experience extreme weather events including drought, flash flooding and sandstorms
  • Frequency of dust storms in the Middle East could double by 2050 as average temperatures keep rising

DUBAI: This summer, at least 20 countries around the world have recorded maximum temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius or above, with extreme heat episodes striking Europe, the Middle East and Africa — often for the first time on record.

The Arab region in particular has experienced progressively extreme temperatures year on year, attributable to long-term variations in weather patterns. Environmental activists warn that at this rate, the reality of climate change could well prove worse than the forecasts.

“Countries in the Middle East that have surpassed temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius include Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Hussein Rifai, chairman of Australian company SPC Global, public speaker and a keen environmentalist, told Arab News.

“Temperatures are expected to rise in the region by at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2050 if greenhouse gases continue to increase at the current rate.”

According to an International Monetary Fund report published in March, temperatures in the Middle East are set to rise by almost half a degree Celsius per decade, leading to extreme weather events including drought, flash flooding and dust storms.

The findings show that climate disasters in the region are already reducing annual economic growth by 1-2 percentage points on a per-capita basis.

“This is not fiction or exaggeration,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in April, responding to the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit (above pre-industrial levels agreed by world leaders in Paris in 2015).”

The effects can already be seen in Tunisia, where 90 percent of coastal tourism infrastructure is threatened by erosion caused by seawater flooding. Similarly, in Iran a severe drought last year sparked protests as water shortages destroyed farmers’ livelihoods.




Hotter summers and more frequent dust storms have implications for public health, productivity and energy demands say experts. (AFP)

“Climate change is exacerbating desertification and water stress,” said Rifai, whose Shepparton-based company made a commitment last year to a sustainable future for the planet. “Repeated sandstorms like those in Iraq will continue to shut down commerce and send thousands to hospital.”

Because of the Middle East and North Africa’s geographical location, average temperatures have already risen much faster than other inhabited regions, up by around 1.5 degrees Celsius in the last three decades — twice the average global increase of 0.7 degrees.

A study published in the scientific journal Climate Dynamics, which introduces a new and more precise way to project temperatures, claims the threshold for dangerous global warming could be crossed as early as 2027, and certainly by 2042.

“It’s a combination of burning fossil fuels, faulty waste-management systems, continuous deforestation and excessive urbanization, creating greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and make the planet warmer,” Zoltan Rendes, chief marketing officer of SunMoney Solar Group, which manages a large community solar-power program, told Arab News.

Erratic weather patterns could be especially harmful for regions that are already hot. Droughts could be longer, deeper and more common, while the frequency of dust storms in the Middle East could double by 2050.

“To put things in perspective, in 2015 a major dust storm blanketed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, causing widespread disruption. It was so massive that it could be seen from space,” said Rendes. “One can only imagine how dangerous the situation will be in the years to come.”

Policymakers throughout the Arab world are now grappling with what increasingly hot summers will mean for public health, infrastructure, productivity, the natural environment and energy demand.

No matter what measures are taken at the global and regional levels to slow the pace of global warming, experts say communities will have to adapt quickly to cope with hotter summers and mitigate their most harmful effects.

Research shows that greenhouse-gas emissions are making heatwaves more common and more intense.

Indeed, this summer at least 90 cities worldwide issued heat alerts, urging the public to remain indoors to avoid excessive sun exposure and heat exhaustion.




Iraqi youths beat the heat in the Shatt Al-Arab river in the southern port city of Basra. (AFP)

The elderly, the homeless, and those with pre-existing medical conditions are especially vulnerable. Hundreds of heat-related fatalities were recorded over the summer months in places that lacked the facilities and infrastructure required to deal with the abnormal weather conditions.

The combination of high temperatures and relative humidity is potentially deadly if the human body is unable to cool off through sweating — a phenomenon known as “wet-bulb” temperatures.

Scientists have calculated that a healthy human adult in the shade with unlimited drinking water will die if wet-bulb temperatures (TW) exceed 35 degrees Celsius for a period of six hours.

It was long assumed this theoretical threshold would never be crossed. However, US researchers came across two locations — one in the UAE, another in Pakistan — where the 35C TW barrier was breached more than once in 2020, if only fleetingly.

Hotter climates will also reduce worker productivity and cause overheated equipment to malfunction.




The Arab world in particular has experienced ever-more extreme temperatures year on year, due to a mixture of suspected man-made climate change and long-term variations in weather patterns. (AFP)

“This is particularly true in manual-labor jobs, but even office workers can be affected when temperatures become too hot,” said Rendes.

Under the circumstances, air conditioners have to work harder to keep people cool, which puts further strain on power grids in the form of higher energy demand.

“If we don’t take action to increase energy efficiency, switch to renewable sources of energy like solar, and propel clean energy solutions through green investments, these problems will grow bigger in the days to come,” said Rendes.

With even roads, railway tracks and runways at risk — some of them literally melted in this year’s summer heat — disruption of economic activity is likely to become more frequent.

Equally worrisome is the increasing risk of conflict and social unrest resulting from human displacement, discomfort and deprivation as rising temperatures destroy livelihoods, overwhelm infrastructure and cause shortages of even basic necessities.

“There will be geopolitical unrest as marginalized citizens fight for access and control of scarce food and water resources,” said Rifai, predicting a looming security threat if no action is taken.




Countries need to be more ambitious with their climate change legislation, the lives and those of future generations are at stake if not, according to Hussein Rifai, SPC Global chairman. (Supplied)

Responding to the challenge, the Gulf states have sought to lower their greenhouse-gas emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement by reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

The UAE, for instance, has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and to invest up to $160 billion in clean and renewable-energy solutions.

Last year, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, committing the Kingdom to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2060 and to plant 10 billion trees over the coming decades.

Rifai thinks widespread adoption of alternative green technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and battery-powered electric vehicles is the way to go.

If wind and solar-power facilities were to be set up in half the world’s countries, he says, not only would their greenhouse-gas emissions be negligible, but the combined cost of installing them would be much lower than operating the existing fossil-fuel power plants.

Some Gulf countries have made notable progress in the development of utility-scale solar and wind power, including the third phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid solar project in Dubai completed last year, and the inauguration of Saudi Arabia’s first wind farm at Dumat Al-Jandal.




A man rides his scooter along a street during a sand storm in Dubai, on August 14, 2022. (AFP)

Saudi authorities aim to increase the Kingdom’s solar-photovoltaic power-generation capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2030.

Another sustainable-energy source being explored by Gulf states is hydrogen, which is regarded by many experts as a clean fuel of the future, particularly green hydrogen, which is produced using solar energy.

Some countries are also tapping the potential of artificial rain to combat drought and increasing aridity.

Cloud seeding is a man-made intervention to increase precipitation, where clouds are seeded by aircraft or ground rockets, which then release the required material, most commonly silver iodide.

Worldwide, as many as 56 countries are using cloud-seeding technology, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have both launched programs to boost precipitation.

“In the UAE, where warm clouds are prevalent, salts mixed with magnesium, sodium chloride and potassium chloride are used,” Rifai said.




Palestinian children play in a public fountain during a hot summer day in Gaza City. (AFP)

Of late, the UAE has been testing a new method of cloud seeding by using drones that zap clouds with electricity. Rifai believes more research is needed to fine-tune cloud-seeding technologies.

“It’s not a perfect solution to drought issues, as it requires the presence of clouds to work and a specific type of cumulus cloud. In drought-affected areas, there are likely to be fewer seedable clouds,” he said.

Viewed together, the aforesaid clean-energy, environmental and weather-modification initiatives show that Arab countries that have the requisite resources and political will are getting to grips with the climate crisis.

Even so, hotter temperatures appear to be the new normal, which Middle East populations will simply have to adapt to.

“It’s not too late, but countries need to be more ambitious with their climate-change legislation. Our lives and those of our future generations are truly at stake,” Rifai said.

“Rich nations that have pledged billions in annual funding to help poor countries transition to renewable energy have to start delivering on this promise.”

 

 

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Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran

Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran
Updated 19 sec ago

Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran

Iranian students clash with riot police in Tehran
PARIS: Iranian students have clashed with security forces at a top Tehran university amid the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, state media and rights groups said Monday.
Kurdish Iranian Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes, sparking Iran’s biggest wave of protests in almost three years.
Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where, local media reported, riot police confronted hundreds of students, using tear gas and paintball and carrying weapons that shoot non-lethal steel pellets.
“Woman, life, liberty,” students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported, adding that the country’s science minister later came to speak to the students in an effort to calm the situation.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted video apparently showing Iranian police on motorcycles pursuing running students in an underground car park and, in a separate clip, taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In other footage, shooting and screaming can be heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night, in footage AFP has not independently verified.
“Security forces have attacked Sharif University in Tehran tonight. Shooting can be heard,” IHR said in a Twitter message Sunday.
In another video clip, a crowd of people can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!” IHR said the footage was taken at Shariati metro station in the capital Tehran on Sunday.
The New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran said it was “extremely concerned by videos coming out of Sharif University and Tehran today showing violent repression of protests + detainees being hauled away with their heads completely covered in fabric.”
Mehr news agency said that “Sharif University of Technology announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Since the unrest started on September 16, dozens of protesters have been killed and more than a thousand arrested. Members of the security forces have been among those killed.

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action
Updated 03 October 2022

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action
  • Section of a concrete stair fence collapsed as students rushed upstairs to their classrooms.

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Education Reda Hegazy ordered an investigation into the collapse of a stair fence in a girls’ preparatory school in Giza, killing one student and injuring 15 more.

According to reports, the police was notified that a section of a concrete stair fence collapsed as students rushed upstairs to their classrooms.

In an official statement published on Sunday, Hegazy paid condolences to the family of the deceased student and ordered a probe into the incident.

The head of the educational directorate, school principal, and supervisors of the school building were referred to the relevant authorities for further investigation as the minister vowed “firm and urgent action against those responsible,” read the ministry’s statement.

Hegazy also ordered a review into all the school buildings nationwide to ensure safety of the students. A report will be submitted to the ministry with the results of the review.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
  • The identities of the two men were not immediately known

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.


Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
Updated 02 October 2022

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
  • After Facebook, Instagram clamp down on content, Chinese-owned platform sees user surge

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists are turning to TikTok to rally against activities by Israel, which accused the social media platform of igniting the security situation in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Israel had successfully pushed Meta to block thousands of Palestinian accounts and content from its social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to limiting Palestinian content through Twitter and Snapchat. However, TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has rejected the Israeli allegations and refused to change its policies.

Thousands of Palestinian social media activists switched to TikTok during the past few weeks to enjoy online freedom and bypass Facebook’s restrictions.

Amer Hamdan, a Palestinian political activist, told Arab News that he recently switched from Facebook to Tiktok after suffering from restrictions imposed by the former, which he said flags the use of words including martyr, resistance and occupation.

Hamdan, who had 200,000 followers on his Facebook page, added that his account was closed because he published a picture of Khalil Al-Wazir, the Palestinian leader who Israel assassinated in Tunisia in 1988.

“Because Facebook is no longer the ideal platform for the Palestinians to spread their cause, the alternative is TikTok, which provides an adequate and sufficient space for the dissemination of media covering armed parades of Palestinian military groups and pictures of Palestinian resistance fighters with their weapons,” said Hamdan.

TikTok previously ranked third in Palestine — after Facebook and Instagram — in social media app usage. However, it jumped to second place during recent weeks, with Palestinian social media experts telling Arab News that though 3 million Palestinian accounts are on Facebook, more than 1 million Palestinians are on TikTok, with the number rapidly increasing.

Palestinian activists also see more technical flexibility while publishing on Tiktok compared to Facebook, with the platform allowing three-minute clips for all users, and 15-minute videos for users who have 1,000 followers or more.

“Within a year, TikTok will be the number one social media platform used by Palestinians,” Hamdan said.

Sam Bahour, an expert in business development affairs, said that social media is gaining “exceptional importance” for Palestinians by enabling them to communicate and bypass Israeli restrictions across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well worldwide through the diaspora.

Ahmed Al-Qadi, from a center that specializes in researching social media activities, told Arab News that after the violent events in the Palestinian territories last May and after Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube removed Palestinian content, people switched to TikTok.

On the other hand, Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Arab News that TikTok is a “tool of dangerous influence” and incites violence through videos glorifying attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Menachem added that TikTok content targets young people, who are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda.

Last May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior officials from ByteDance, demanding that the company block Palestinian content. But Gantz’s appeal was denied, with the company only promising to pay more attention to published content.

Young Palestinians have filmed Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, house demolitions, arrests, killings, settler attacks and racist treatment, with the content going viral on TikTok.

Despite the Israeli government’s anger, officials do not expect TikTok to take any action against Palestinian accounts, whether based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or abroad.

“Maybe TikTok will close a few Palestinian accounts, but thousands of accounts that incite against Israel will remain active, and whoever loses his account can open a new account under a pseudonym,” said Ben-Menachem, adding: “TikTok has become the most dangerous means of incitement against Israel.”


International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
Updated 02 October 2022

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
  • Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce
  • Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce

AL-MUKALLA: A six-month-old UN-brokered ceasefire in Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthis and the Arab coalition ended on Sunday with no word from the rivals on whether it would be extended.

The US, UK, China, other world powers and the secretary-general of the Arab League have all urged Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthis to extend the UN-brokered truce.

Despite mounting pressure, only the Yemeni government had earlier agreed to extend the truce.

The US ambassador to Yemen, Steven H. Fagin, expressed concern about the various Yemeni parties’ hesitation to express their support for extending the truce.

“I call on the parties not to squander the progress of the last six months and to prioritize the Yemeni people by accepting an extension and expansion of the truce,” Fagin said in a brief statement. 

On Sunday, the UK Ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim reissued the same call to the Houthis and other Yemeni parties to follow the UN envoy’s suggestions for extending the truce.

“I encourage the Houthis to work with the UN to extend the Truce. It’s the only route that will provide an opportunity for them to deliver benefits for ordinary Yemenis” he said on Twitter. 

The UN-brokered truce, which began on April 2 and has been extended twice, has dramatically reduced violence in Yemen, allowed flights to leave Sanaa airport, and eliminated fuel shortages throughout the country by allowing dozens of fuel ships to reach the port of Hodeidah.

The only term of the truce that has not been implemented is the opening of roads in besieged Taiz, as the Houthis have refused to open at least one main road leading into and out of the city, which is the main demand of the Yemeni government.

As the UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, shuttled between Muscat, Riyadh, and Sanaa to persuade Yemeni leaders to renew the truce, foreign diplomats and humanitarian organizations in Yemen sent last-minute appeals to both sides on Sunday.

“China emphasizes its support for the special envoy and is willing to make unremitting efforts with the international community to resolve the Yemen issue,” the Chinese Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. 

The EU’s mission in Yemen also demanded that the Yemeni government and the Houthis accept the UN envoy’s proposal, renew the truce, and implement its provisions.

“Time to consolidate and develop a truce, including opening roads and agreeing on the payment of salaries, that has delivered and can bring more benefits to the #Yemeni people,” the mission said in a statement on Twitter.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce and work to alleviate suffering.

The latest UN proposal includes a six-month cease-fire while the Houthis open only minor roads in Taiz, paying public employees in their territories, while the Yemeni government covers any shortfall in payments, allowing more fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port, and opening new routes from Sanaa to Muscat, Doha, and Mumbai. 

Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce.

During a meeting with the UN envoy in Riyadh on Sunday, the Yemeni leader stated that he is committed to supporting any peace initiative to end the war in Yemen and alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, and he urged mounting pressure on the Houthis and their Iranian backers to stop undermining peace efforts.

In Sanaa, the Houthis rejected calls to renew the truce on Saturday night, threatening to resume military operations, including strikes on oil companies in government-controlled areas.