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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US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
Updated 30 November 2022

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
  • Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories

BAGHDAD: The US team’s victory over Iran at the World Cup on Tuesday was closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Supporters view it as the leader of an “axis of resistance” against what they see as US imperialism, corrupt Arab rulers and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
The divide is especially intense in Lebanon and Iraq, where heavily armed Iran-backed political factions vie for political influence with opponents more oriented toward the West. In those countries, many believe Iran or the US are due for comeuppance — even if only on the pitch.
Others wished a plague on both their houses.
“Both are adversaries of Iraq and played a negative role in the country,” Haydar Shakar said in downtown Baghdad, where a cafe displayed the flags of both countries hanging outside. “It’s a sports tournament, and they’re both taking part in it. That’s all it is to us.”
A meme widely circulated ahead of Tuesday’s match between the US and Iran jokingly referred to it as “the first time they will play outside of Lebanon.” Another Twitter user joked that whoever wins the group stage “takes Iraq.”
The Iran-backed Hezbollah was the only armed group to keep its weapons after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. It says its arms are needed to defend the country from Israel and blames Lebanon’s economic crisis in part on US sanctions. Opponents decry Hezbollah as an “Iranian occupation,” while many Lebanese accuse both the US and Iran of meddling in their internal affairs.
In Iraq, the 2003 US-led invasion led to years of intense violence and sectarian strife, and Iran-backed political factions and militias largely filled the vacuum. While US forces and Iran-backed militias found themselves on the same side against the Islamic State extremist group, they have traded fire on several occasions since its defeat.
Both Lebanon and Iraq have had to contend with years of political gridlock, with the main dividing line running between Iran’s allies and opponents.
In Yemen, the Iran-aligned Houthi militia captured the capital and much of the country’s north in 2014. The Houthis have been at war since then with an array of factions supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two US allies.
In Syria’s civil war, Iran supported President Bashar Assad’s government against rebels, some supported by the West. In the Palestinian territories, it backs Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant factions that do not recognize Israel and have carried out scores of attacks over the years.
Interviews with soccer fans in Beirut and Baghdad revealed mixed emotions about the match.
In Beirut’s southern suburbs, a center of Hezbollah support, young men draped in Iranian flags gathered in a cafe hung with a “Death to America” flag to watch the match.
“We are against America in football, politics and everything else,” Ali Nehme said. “God is with Lebanon and Iran.”
Across the city on the seafront promenade, Beirut resident Aline Noueyhed said, “Of course I’m not with Iran after all the disasters they made. Definitely, I’m with America.” She added, however, that the US also was “not 100 percent helping us.”
The post-game reaction in the streets of Beirut after the US defeated Iran 1-0, eliminating it from the tournament and advancing to the knockout round, was far more subdued than after the previous day’s win by Brazil — a fan favorite in Lebanon — over Switzerland.
In Baghdad, Ali Fadel was cheering for Iran, because “it’s a neighboring country, an Asian country.”
“There are many linkages between us and them,” he added.
Nour Sabah was rooting for the US because “they are a strong team, and (the US) controls the world.”
In Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, fans also gave mixed reactions.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zainab Fakhri was rooting for the US to beat Iran “to punish the Iranian regime that has been oppressing the women’s revolution,” referring to recent protests there.
At the same cafe, Aras Harb, 23, was backing Iran. “We prefer them because my family were able to flee there during the war, and the Iranian people are kind.”
Saad Mohammad, 20, had been hoping for a tie, fearing that a win could worsen an already alarming security situation. If locals celebrate the win, he said, “I fear Iran will launch rockets at us.”
Although the Iran supporters were visibly upset at their loss, the crowd filed out after the game without incident.
Regional politics hovered over the last matchup, at the 1998 World Cup, when Iran famously defeated the US 2-1, eliminating it from the tournament. That came less than two decades after Iran’s Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed shah and protesters overran the US Embassy, leading to a prolonged hostage crisis.
French riot police were on site at the stadium in Lyon that year, but they weren’t needed. The teams posed together in a group photo, and Iran’s players even brought white roses for their opponents.
In this year’s matchup, allegiances have been scrambled by the nationwide protests gripping Iran, with some Iranians openly rooting against their own team. The players declined to sing along to their national anthem ahead of their opening match, in what was seen as an expression of sympathy for the protests, but reversed course and sang ahead of their next one.
In some neighborhoods of Tehran, people chanted “Death to the dictator!” after the match, even though it was past midnight local time.
Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar who has researched the politics of sports, said World Cup fandom is not necessarily an indicator of political affiliation, even in countries with deep divisions.
Local sports in Lebanon are “highly politicized,” with all the major basketball and soccer clubs having political and sectarian affiliations, he said. But when it comes to the World Cup — where Lebanon has never qualified to play — fans latch on to any number of teams.
That’s true across the region, where fans sporting Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo jerseys can be found from Gaza to Afghanistan.
“This is one of the few spheres where people have the liberty and freedom to choose a country that they simply like and not the country where they think there’s an obligation for them to be affiliated with it,” Reiche said.


Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
Updated 29 November 2022

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
  • Under an agreement signed on Tuesday in Rabat, they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property

RABAT: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will work with authorities in Morocco to protect heritage in Sub-Saharan African countries, under a partnership agreement signed in Rabat on Tuesday.

In particular they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property. They will also share their expertise in the protection of cultural artifacts with specialists in museums, promote the role of museums in African societies, create inventories, and train heritage-conservation experts.

The agreement was signed on behalf of Mohammed Mehdi Bensaid, the Moroccan minister of youth, culture and communication, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general.

 


Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

 Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’
Updated 29 November 2022

Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

 Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

TEHRAN: Tehran and Baghdad Tuesday identified fighting “terrorism,” maintaining mutual security and extending economic cooperation as key priorities during the new Iraqi prime minister’s first official visit to Iran.

Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani was received by President Ebrahim Raisi, who expressed hopes of bolstering ties that have lately been hit by tensions over Iran carrying out cross-border strikes against exiled opposition groups.

Al-Sudani came to power last month, after a year-long tussle between political factions over forming a government following an October 2021 general election.

“From our perspective and that of the Iraqi government, security, peace, cooperation and regional stability are very important,” Raisi told a joint press conference.

“As a result, the fight against terrorist groups, organized crime, drugs and other insecurity that threaten the region depends on the common will of our two nations,” he said.

Al-Sudani said that “our government is determined not to allow any group or party to use Iraqi territory to undermine and disrupt Iran’s security.”

Since nationwide protests erupted in Iran more than two months ago, Iranian officials have accused Kurdish opposition groups exiled in northern Iraq of stoking the unrest and the Islamic republic has repeatedly launched deadly cross-border strikes.

Such strikes — targeting Iranian-Kurdish groups in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region — resumed this month, even after Iraq’s federal government summoned Iran’s ambassador in late September to complain about cross-border missile and drone hits that killed at least seven people.

Iraq has announced in the past week that it will redeploy federal guards on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, rather than leaving the responsibility to Kurdish peshmerga forces — a move welcomed by Tehran.

Al-Sudani added that the two countries’ national security advisers would hold consultations to “establish a working mechanism for on-the-ground coordination to avoid any escalation.”

Al-Sudani also thanked Iran for its continued deliveries of gas and electricity, which have been in short supply in Iraq, while he also pointed to discussions on a “mechanism” to enable Iraq to pay Iran for these services.


Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides
Updated 29 November 2022

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides
  • Family trip back home to India brings delight to employee
  • Super app had 10th anniversary in July

DUBAI: Hailing app Careem has celebrated the completion of 1 billion rides across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

The billionth journey was completed by Captain Razak Uppattil, who has completed 10,500 rides since joining Careem four years ago. 

To commemorate the milestone, the Dubai-based super app gave Uppattil a trip back home to visit his family in India.

He said: “It’s the people that I get to meet from all over the world that I really enjoy.

“I have three children back home in Kerala, India, and I am so excited I’ll see them soon.”

Genera Tesoro, who was Careem’s 1 billionth passenger, was given a year of ride-hailing trips to mark the milestone. 

Careem, which marked its 10-year anniversary in July, is now operating in more than 100 cities in 14 countries. It recently expanded its fleet in Qatar by more than 50 percent ahead of the World Cup.

 


Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon

Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon
Updated 29 November 2022

Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon

Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces have played a key role in dislodging Daesh fighters from the territory they seized in the country

WASHINGTON: A Turkish ground operation in Syria would “severely jeopardize” gains made in the war against Daesh, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, urging restraint.
Turkiye has carried out air strikes against semi-autonomous Kurdish zones in Syria and Iraq since a deadly Istanbul bombing it blames on Kurdish groups, and has threatened to launch an operation on the ground in Syria.
The US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), now the Kurds’ de facto army in northeast Syria, have played a key role in dislodging Daesh fighters from the territory they seized in the country.
“The continued conflict, especially a ground invasion, would severely jeopardize the hard-fought gains that the world has achieved against Daesh and would destabilize the region,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told journalists.
“We... remain concerned about a potential Turkish ground operation in Syria, and again would urge restraint,” he said, while also acknowledging Ankara’s security concerns.
Ryder said US forces have reduced the number of joint patrols with the SDF, but have not redeployed.
“We have reduced the number of patrols because... we do these partnering with the SDF, and so they have reduced the number of patrols that they’re doing,” he said.
Since 2016, Turkiye has launched several incursions against Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have allowed it to control areas along the border.