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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Christian blocs indicate support for Jihad Azour as a Lebanon presidential candidate 

Among the likely names from the Christian bloc suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour.
Among the likely names from the Christian bloc suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour.
Updated 29 May 2023

Christian blocs indicate support for Jihad Azour as a Lebanon presidential candidate 

Among the likely names from the Christian bloc suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour.
  • Patriarch Al-Rahi praises parliamentary consensus before his trip to Vatican and France
  • Hezbollah sees nomination of Azour as a ploy to overthrow their candidate Frangieh

BEIRUT: News emerged on Sunday that the largest Christian blocs in the Lebanese parliament — the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, and the Lebanese Phalanges Party — were moving toward reaching a consensus on a presidential candidate.

Among the likely names suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour, 57.

Azour currently serves as the director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi made a possible reference to the consensus in his Sunday sermon on the eve of his trip to the Vatican and then to Paris.

Al-Rahi expressed hope that a president of the republic would be elected as soon as possible so that the constitutional institutions could be organized.

He said: “We thank God for what we hear about some consensus among parliamentary blocs regarding the future president, so that he does not pose a challenge to anyone, and at the same time possesses a personality that responds to Lebanon’s needs today and inspires internal and external confidence.”

Al-Rahi hoped the “chaos occurring at several levels” would also stop soon.

Hezbollah and the political coalition allied with it support the nomination of Sleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Party who is close to the Syrian regime, but most Christian parliamentary blocs in Lebanon reject him.

Mohammed Raad, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc chief, reacted to the possibility of the Christian parliamentary blocs reaching a consensus on Azour as their candidate.

Raad said in a statement on Sunday that “the candidate whose name is circulating is a maneuvering candidate whose mission is to confront the candidate we support and to undermine him.”

He called on the other group “to stop wasting time and prolonging the deadline.”

The presidential vacuum in Lebanon will enter its eighth month on June 1 after 11 parliamentary election sessions failed to enable a presidential candidate to reach the second round of the presidential elections due to a lack of quorum.

Opposition forces to Hezbollah previously insisted on nominating MP Michel Mouawad, but Hezbollah considered him an “inflammatory candidate.”

A political analyst stated that Azour did not want to be a “confrontational or challenging candidate.”

The Lebanese media reported that Azour said he “wants to be the president who carries a rescue project for the country with the approval of everyone.”

The political analyst was cautious about “considering Azour as a final candidate for the Christian blocs, in anticipation of any surprises or changes in positions at the last moment.”

He, however, praised what he saw as the positive direction achieved so far.

MP Elias Hankash, who is involved in the negotiations, said that the chances of electing a president soon had improved.

He also said that name of former Minister Azour was among the names agreed upon by the Free Patriotic Movement.

Hankash said: “There is an insistence that we cannot devote the presidency to Hezbollah.”

He emphasized that “we want an acceptable candidate who has the specifications that we do not compromise on, and we see that the country cannot tolerate settlements, and we are not talking today about a settlement but about accepting a candidate.

“There are principles that many have died for, and a settlement occurs when we give up on principles, but when we agree on a name, this is not called a settlement.”

MP George Okais, a former judge and member of the Lebanese Forces party, spoke of progress in the negotiations between the opposition and the Free Patriotic Movement, without yet reaching an agreement on a unified name.

Okais said he expected that next week could be a turning point in this direction.

He pointed out that the proposal of Azour came as a result of an agreement with the Free Patriotic Movement on a non-provocative name for the Hezbollah team.

At the same time, he said the name could unify the ranks of the opposition, “so we have gone halfway, waiting for the other team.”

Ali Hassan Khalil, a member of the Amal Movement bloc, believes that “the logic of political forces coming together only to obstruct the candidate we supported cannot lead our country to safety.”

He added: “When we supported a candidate for the presidency (Frangieh), we were guided by deep convictions that we wanted a president who could manage national consensus.”

Hashem Safieddine, head of Hezbollah’s executive council, said: “There is no way to reach a president of the republic except through consensus.”

Safieddine added: “This is Lebanon, and this is its nature, and this is how the solutions are in it.” 

Maronite Patriarchate spokesperson Walid Ghayad said on Sunday that Al-Rahi was heading to the Vatican on Monday to meet with Prime Minister Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

He will then travel to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

According to Ghayad, Al-Rahi will ask for France’s assistance in the Syrian refugee issue in Lebanon and the necessity of their return to their country, in addition to addressing financial matters, especially in light of the economic crisis.

Azour coordinated the implementation of important reform initiatives when he served as the finance minister from 2005 to 2008.

Before and after this tenure, he held several positions in the private sector.

They include working at McKinsey & Company and Booz & Company, where he was a senior partner and executive adviser.

Before joining the IMF in March 2017, he was a managing partner at the consulting and investment firm Infinity Partners for investment and business consulting.

Syria says Israeli missiles target sites near Damascus

Syria says Israeli missiles target sites near Damascus
Updated 29 May 2023

Syria says Israeli missiles target sites near Damascus

Syria says Israeli missiles target sites near Damascus
  • The last Israeli air raids on Syria on May 2 left seven dead

DAMASCUS: Syrian army air defenses on Sunday confronted an Israeli missile strike on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and there were no casualties, state media said.
Citing a Syrian military source, state media said missile strikes coming from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights had targeted several sites it did not identify.
“Our air defenses confronted the aggressors’ missiles and downed some of them with only material losses,” the Syrian military source said.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.
Israel has for years carried out attacks on what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in a civil war that started in 2011.
The strikes are part of an escalation of what has been a low-intensity conflict with a goal of slowing Iran’s growing entrenchment in Syria, Israeli military experts say.
Fighters allied to Iran, including Hezbollah, now hold sway in vast areas in eastern, southern, and northwestern Syria and in several suburbs around the capital.


Israel launches ‘eye in the sky’ balloon in Galilee

Israel launches ‘eye in the sky’ balloon in Galilee
Updated 28 May 2023

Israel launches ‘eye in the sky’ balloon in Galilee

Israel launches ‘eye in the sky’ balloon in Galilee
  • High-tech device to offer early warning of drones, missiles as conflict fears grow

RAMALLAH: A surveillance balloon launched by the Israeli military in the northern Galilee region will provide early warning of long-range missiles and drones targeting the country, sources said on Sunday.

Israeli authorities said that the balloon weighs several tons, and is equipped with specialist cameras, computers and radar.

The balloon is located on the triangle of the Jordanian-Syrian border, and can monitor territory hundreds of kilometers away. 

Military sources said that the new balloon is similar to the device that protects the Dimona reactor in the Negev desert.

It will be able to detect long-range missiles and drones launched from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as monitor aircraft at Damascus airport and deep into Lebanon, the sources said. 

According to the sources, transporting and launching the balloon was one of the most complex logistical operations the Israeli Air Force has carried out in the past decade.

A US team helped to assemble and launch the balloon, the sources said.

The Israeli army expects any future war to be a “multi-front” confrontation, with coordinated attacks involving thousands of aircraft, including drones, and cruise missiles. 

The system, developed jointly by the Israel Missile Defense Organization and the US Missile Defense Agency, comprises a balloon capable of flying at high altitudes with radar and detection systems to scan a large area in any direction.

Rami Shmuel, CEO of RT, an Israeli company that makes surveillance balloons, told Arab News that the systems are much better than drones or other security surveillance methods from both economic and operational perspectives. 

“The balloon costs $1 per hour, while the done costs $600, and it can stay in the sky between 14-20 days continuously, while the drone can stay for a few hours only,” Shmuel said.

He said that balloons, unlike drones, can be fitted with cumbersome high-resolution cameras.

“It’s the best security surveillance and warning method,” Shmuel added.

Majdi Halabi, an expert on Israeli affairs, told Arab News that Iran has provided Hezbollah in Lebanon with hundreds of Shahid and Khaybar drones, which pose a significant threat to Israel.

The surveillance balloon will allow drones to be intercepted and brought down before they cross Israel’s borders, he said.

“If 5,000 drones and missiles were launched by Hezbollah toward Israel, it would cause terrible destruction,” Halabi added.

According to the sources, Israel faces significant defense challenges, particularly in the north.

Yoni Ben Menachem, an Israeli analyst, told Arab News the country has accurate intelligence regarding Hezbollah’s intention to attack Israeli targets.

He referred to a statement by Naim Qassem, deputy head of the party, who said the next war would be fought inside (Israel) and not in southern Lebanon.

“Hezbollah is trying to change the game rules that have prevailed since the July 2006 war by moving the battle into Israel instead of southern Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, Israel will begin large-scale military maneuvers on Monday, including the air force, army and navy, in areas across the country. Combat aircraft will take part in the exercises, which will last about two weeks.

Civil aviation routes in Israel will be changed and airspace closed to small aircraft during the exercises.

Stability in Sudan is vital to the region, El-Sisi says

Stability in Sudan is vital to the region, El-Sisi says
Updated 28 May 2023

Stability in Sudan is vital to the region, El-Sisi says

Stability in Sudan is vital to the region, El-Sisi says
  • Egyptian leader lays out roadmap to end violence, restore security

CAIRO: Restoring stability and security in Sudan is important not only for the Sudanese people but also for the entire region, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said.

El-Sisi’s remarks came in his speech at a meeting of the African Peace and Security Council on Sudan attended by heads of state and government via video conference.

The Egyptian president said: “In addition to its political significance, today’s meeting bears symbolic value, affirming the continued partnership between African parties, all international partners, and relief agencies to work together toward a stable and secure Sudan.”

El-Sisi said: “Our meeting today comes to adopt the de-escalation plan, which was formulated in coordination with neighboring countries which represents an important step toward achieving stability and internal consensus, and ending the current bloody conflict.”

He also highlighted other initiatives to deal with the Sudanese crisis, as well as preserving the country’s territorial integrity and institutions.

“Efforts made within the framework of the African Union are complementary to other tracks, including the Arab League, whose recent summit endorsed the formation of an Arab ministerial contact group to deal with the crisis,” El-Sisi said.

“This is in addition to the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) efforts and the agreements signed during the Jeddah negotiations, stipulating the commitment to a ceasefire, opening the way for the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid, and the withdrawal of troops from public hospitals and facilities.

“These tracks must be based on common, coordinated, and mutually supportive standards and establish a road map for the political process to address the root causes of the issues that led to the current crisis and aim at broad and inclusive participation of all Sudanese people,” he added.

Egypt has highlighted the importance of close coordination with neighboring countries to resolve the crisis, and restore security and stability in Sudan.

El-Sisi said that Egypt has assumed its responsibility as a major neighboring country to Sudan by intensifying communication with all the actors and international partners to put an end to the violence.

The Egyptian president listed four factors on which his country based its efforts, the most important of which are:

First: the need for a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire that is not limited to humanitarian purposes.

Second: the necessity of preserving state institutions in Sudan, which are the backbone for protecting the country from the risk of collapse.

Third: The conflict in Sudan concerns the Sudanese. “Our role as regional parties is to help them stop it and achieve consensus on the resolution of the causes that led to it in the first place. In this regard, Egypt stresses its respect for the Sudanese people’s will, non-interference in their internal affairs, and the importance of not allowing foreign intervention in their current crisis,” El-Sisi said.

Fourth: The humanitarian repercussions of the Sudanese crisis extend beyond the state’s borders and affect neighboring countries.

El-Sisi said that “Egypt has committed itself to its responsibilities in this regard by receiving 150,000 Sudanese citizens to date, in addition to hosting 5 million Sudanese, who are treated as citizens.”

He called on relief agencies and donor countries to provide support to allow neighboring states to continue this role.

18th Arab Media Forum kicks off in Kuwait

18th Arab Media Forum kicks off in Kuwait
Updated 28 May 2023

18th Arab Media Forum kicks off in Kuwait

18th Arab Media Forum kicks off in Kuwait
  • Editors-in-chief from Arab newspapers discuss addressing upcoming digital media transformation

KUWAIT: The 18th Arab Media Forum kicked off on Sunday in Kuwait under the patronage of Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Sabah.

The event focused on a range of issues pertaining to the future of media in the region, Kuwait News Agency reported.

During one of the sessions, Jameel Al-Thiyabi, editor-in-chief of Saudi newspaper Okaz stated that the rise of Artificial Intelligence would have an impact on media outlets all over the world, emphasizing the importance of keeping up with AI developments in media rather than falling behind.

The Arab League’s assistant secretary-general for media Ahmed Khattabi stressed the importance of addressing challenges within digital media, adding that improving media capacities should not overshadow topics of significant importance to the Arab world, particularly the Palestinian cause.

Meanwhile, Waleed Al-Jasim, editor-in-chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, said Arab media faced challenges surrounding media freedoms, adding that social media platforms allowed for more freedom of expression compared with mainstream media.

Hatim Al Taie, editor-in-chief of Omani newspaper Al-Roya, warned younger people working in the industry needed to prepare for the oncoming digital media transformation. He called on the Arab League to impose fees on international media companies, with the money used in funding media entities in the Arab region.