Look Ahead 2023: Grim forecasts underscore importance of climate adapation for Middle East and North African countries

Special A mother gives her child water at a camp in drought-ravaged Somalia. (AFP)
A mother gives her child water at a camp in drought-ravaged Somalia. (AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2023

Look Ahead 2023: Grim forecasts underscore importance of climate adapation for Middle East and North African countries

Look Ahead 2023: Grim forecasts underscore importance of climate adapation for Middle East and North African countries
  • Climate-related issues will continue to place a huge financial burden on Arab countries in the coming years
  • Record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather events are bound to pose a formidable challenge

DUBAI: For much of the past year, climate change had been high on the global policy agenda as extreme weather events, including floods, dust storms, heatwaves, droughts and blizzards, were reported from different parts of the world.

At the same time, governments pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, move toward cleaner, renewable sources of energy, take steps to increase resilience and advance the cause of environmental justice. But are these commitments bold enough or too little too late?

Over the holiday period, the UK Met Office warned that the coming year would likely be the hottest on record, indicating that not nearly enough was being done to prevent average global temperatures rising beyond 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

In fact, Met Office research suggests that 2023 will be the tenth consecutive year in which global temperatures are at least 1 C above pre-industrial levels.

Weather extremes of the past year, such as droughts and flooding, will become more frequent, with Middle Eastern countries facing ‘magnified effects,’ forecasters warn. (AFP)

For many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where temperatures are rising at almost double the rate of the rest of the world, the threat posed by an even hotter year cannot be overstated.

Climate-related issues will continue to place a huge financial burden on Arab countries, with some estimates suggesting that adapting to climate change could cost developing countries up to $340 billion annually by 2030.

To help developing countries, particularly those vulnerable to climate change, a decision was taken at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheik in November to establish a “loss and damage” fund.

The fund aims to encourage wealthy, industrialized nations to compensate developing, low-emission countries when they suffer climate-related disasters.

Addressing COP27 delegates, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, appealed for more ambitious with their emissions-cutting targets in line with the 1.5 C goal agreed in Paris in 2015.

“Our planet is still in the emergency room,” Guterres said, highlighting the need to “massively invest in renewables and end our addiction to fossil fuels.” With too many countries falling short of their targets, “the world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition,” he added.

Climate scientists say weather events of the past 12 months, including record temperatures in the UK, wildfires in Europe and Australia, flooding in Pakistan, dust storms across the Middle East, and the “bomb cyclone” in North America, have proved that far more concerted climate action is needed.

Zoltan Rendes, a European Climate Pact ambassador and chief marketing officer at SunMoney Solar Group, says the impact of rising temperatures is expected to be “magnified” in 2023, especially in hotter countries in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

A recent study published by the Review of Geophysics found that average temperatures in countries including Egypt, Greece, and Saudi Arabia are projected to rise by approximately 5 C by the end of the century. Climate adaptation, among other measures, is therefore critical for these nations.

People use a cradle service to cross a flooded river in Pakistan’s mountainous north. (AFP)

“Temperatures could reach dangerous levels that would be near impossible for people to work in,” Rendes told Arab News. “This would lead to decreased productivity and the potential for humanitarian crises due to heat-related illnesses.”

He says daptation strategies, such as increased spending on renewable energy sources and cooling infrastructure, should be implemented immediately.

Using climate-smart agriculture techniques, such as crop diversification, energy optimization through smart power grids, and water conservation measures will also be crucial to the region’s development in the coming decades.

“This rise in temperature can lead to a variety of extreme weather phenomena, such as sandstorms, heavy rains and floods, drought, and heat waves … . These conditions can put tremendous strain on vital infrastructure and resources essential to sustaining life in the region,” Rendes told Arab News.

While dust storms are not uncommon in the Middle East, an increase in wind speeds due to higher temperatures may mean that these storms become more frequent and intense.

Similarly, areas prone to flooding during heavy rainfall could experience an increased risk owing to a potential rise in precipitation, said Rendes.

To compound the problem, according to Dr. John A. Burt, associate professor of biology and head of environmental studies at New York University Abu Dhabi, rising temperatures will lead to more evaporation in the water-scarce Middle East region, adversely affecting ecosystems and agriculture.

“As our seas are a major sink for thermal energy, we can also expect an influence on marine heat waves, and consequent effects on sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs,” he told Arab News.

“If we look back at August 2017, low winds for a period of just several weeks resulted in a marine heat wave that killed off almost three-quarters of all coral reef areas in the Arabian Gulf.”

A Somali girl collects water from a well at the Tawakal IDP camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (AFP/File Photo)

This is in part due to the already hostile environment found in most Middle Eastern nations. Even modest changes in temperature and wind speed can have a staggering impact on ecosystems and human health.

“While climate change represents a long-term trend, climate variability — where we can experience much stronger extremes — can have more acute, short-term impacts,” Burt told Arab News.

It is also important to consider that global temperatures are also influenced by El Nino and La Nina events, which cause warmer or cooler periods, respectively, based on changes in ocean temperature.

“These phenomena refer to large scale wind patterns that occur in the southern Pacific Ocean, which have the capacity to affect weather patterns globally as our atmosphere and seas are one large and complex interconnected system,” he said.

Over the last three years, La Nina has cooled down the average global temperature, an effect that is expected to come to an end in 2023 — bringing about warmer weather conditions.

“It is important to recognize the potential impacts of these climate events as they can lead to significant human and economic costs,” Rendes told Arab News.

For example, an increase in precipitation during an El Nino could mean flooding risks for some countries, while a decrease in rainfall during a La Nina could result in water shortages.

Rendes added that areas of the Middle East suffering from drought might are likely to experience reduced rainfall, resulting in severe water scarcity.

Consequently, heat waves could become far more frequent and potentially longer lasting as temperatures in the region scale unprecedented highs.

In turn, this could lead to an increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, sunstroke, and heat exhaustion, according to Rendes.

In dazzling turquoise waters off Egypt's Red Sea coast, scuba divers swim among delicate pink jellyfish and admire coral -- but the rebounding tourism sector is worrisome for the fragile marine ecosystem. (AFP)

“It is essential that governments work together to implement policies that address both climate change mitigation efforts as well as adaptation strategies,” he told Arab News.

The UN Environment Programme’s recently published Emissions Gap Report 2022 shares the same conclusions.

It shows the world is not on track to reach the 2015 Paris Agreement goals. Instead, global temperatures are set to reach 2.8 C by the end of the century, while temperatures in 2023 are on course to reach between 1.08 C and 1.32 C above the pre-industrial average.

The report also says that the world must cut emissions by 45 percent to avoid global catastrophe and that multilateral action is needed to tackle the crisis.

Several Arab countries are taking steps to mitigate climate change. For instance, Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. The Kingdom is investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind to achieve this goal.

The Saudi government is also planning to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and establish an exchange platform for carbon offsets and credits for the MENA region.

“By 2023, Saudi Arabia aims to complete 840 MW of solar photovoltaic projects, and is currently in the process of constructing an additional 13 renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 11 GW,” Rendes told Arab News.

The Kingdom has announced one of the world’s most significant carbon capture and storage hubs on the east coast of Jubail that will be up and running by 2027.

Concurrently, ambitious projects such as the Saudi Green and Middle East Green Initiatives, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021, aim to boost emissions reductions, carbon capture and green-energy transition throughout the region.

Similarly, the UAE is taking action to reduce emissions from power generation and transportation to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“The UAE government and leadership have wholeheartedly invested in solar energy projects, setting the stage for them to be the first country in the Middle East and North Africa region with a national pathway towards net zero emissions,” Rendes told Arab News.

He cautions that as with any significant undertaking, cooperation among the governments of the Arab region is a prerequisite for meaningful progress.

“The time to act is now — let’s make sure that 2023 isn’t too late,” Rendes told Arab News. “Make no mistake, the planet will survive. But let’s make sure that we survive with it too.”

UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages

UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages
Updated 14 sec ago

UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages

UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages
LONDON: The UK’s military will conduct surveillance flights over Gaza to help locate hostages held by Hamas since its October 7 attack on Israel, Britain’s defense ministry confirmed at the weekend.
Hamas fighters seized around 240 Israelis and foreign hostages, according to Israeli authorities. Around 110 have since been freed, mainly during a recent week-long truce.
Israel’s military said on Friday it had resumed fighting in the besieged Palestinian territory, blaming Hamas. The resumption of combat has frustrated hopes for the swift release of the more than 130 captives the Israeli army has said are still being held in Gaza.
The UK has said at least 12 British nationals were killed in the October 7 attacks — in which Israeli officials say about 1,200 people died, mostly civilians — and that a further five are still missing.
But it has not confirmed how many are being held by Hamas.
Israel responded to the October 7 attack by vowing to eliminate the militant group and its subsequent relentless air and ground campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas authorities who run Gaza.
London did not reveal when its military surveillance flights over the territory would start but stressed they would be unarmed and focused only on hostage recovery efforts.
“In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defense will conduct surveillance flights over the Eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza,” it said in a statement.
“Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages,” the ministry added.
“Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue.”
UK government minister Victoria Atkins told the BBC on Sunday that the aircraft to be utilized were “unarmed and unmanned drones.”
Alongside the United States, the UK in October deployed various military assets to the eastern Mediterranean to deter “any malign interference in the conflict.”
That included maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft as well as a Royal Navy task group moving to the region, the defense ministry said at the time.

Gazan evacuees take flight with their shattered dreams: Arab News journalist Sherouk Zakaria reflects on the mission she joined

Gazan evacuees take flight with their shattered dreams: Arab News journalist Sherouk Zakaria reflects on the mission she joined
Updated 4 min 7 sec ago

Gazan evacuees take flight with their shattered dreams: Arab News journalist Sherouk Zakaria reflects on the mission she joined

Gazan evacuees take flight with their shattered dreams: Arab News journalist Sherouk Zakaria reflects on the mission she joined
  • Arab News boarded the fourth UAE mission that left Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon to evacuate 120 injured Palestinian children and cancer patients
  • Renewed airstrikes near Rafah border allowed only a few lucky Palestinian patients to leave

ABU DHABI: What was once a flight that carried passengers to new destinations or home to see their families has become a “flying hospital” for war-stricken Palestinians.

The comfortable padded seats of Etihad Airways’ Boeing 777 serve as beds for vulnerable elderly cancer patients who have been evacuated from an “apocalyptic” Gaza for treatment in the UAE.

I was part of the Arab News team aboard the fourth UAE mission that left Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon to evacuate 120 injured Palestinian children and cancer patients, along with their companions, from Egypt’s Al-Arish International Airport in a challenging journey that took 14 hours.

My seat in economy class was next to a stretcher installed above a group of folded seats that medics were setting up to provide urgent medical care for the seriously wounded.

Gaza was under intense bombing that day shortly after the truce ended, with airstrikes hitting near the Rafah border where only a few evacuees were lucky to leave.

Our take-off from Abu Dhabi was delayed by almost two hours as UAE officials and medics adjusted their plans based on information they received from Egyptian authorities on the ground.  

Landing in Al-Arish at dusk, we left the plane two hours later to welcome patients after officials had back-and-forth negotiations with the Egyptian authorities on the right movement in the highly secured location.

The stillness and eerie silence in the vast, dark desert of Al-Arish stood in sharp contrast with the intense bombardment behind Rafah crossing, which was only 55 km away, about a 45-minute trip.

The impact of the brutal war on Gaza unfolded before our eyes as patients began to arrive in Egyptian ambulances.

The passengers shared common features: Eyes framed with intense black circles, thin and exhausted figures, a small plastic bag carrying a few possessions, and a gaze that simultaneously captured a mix of emotions — relief, guilt and hope.

On the tarmac, UAE medics and doctors received the first patient; a seriously injured man, tightly strapped on a stretcher and appearing to be in immense pain, who was transported onto the aircraft via a hydraulic lift after his condition was assessed.

It was a sight that countless hours following the war daily could not have prepared me for.

Soon after, dozens of dazed and weak elderly cancer patients followed on wheelchairs for their turn to board the aircraft. Receiving them with reassuring smiles and gentle pats on the shoulder, doctors and staff from the Abu Dhabi Department of Health later told us that these patients had had no access to painkillers, proper food or water since the war started on Oct. 7.

“The first thing we do with some cases is give them hydration and painkillers to immediately comfort the pain. We receive many patients who have lived in pain for long weeks,” Jordanian nursing manager, Sabreen Tawalbeh, told me.

This flight received only a few war-related trauma wounds as majority of the adult and young cancer patients boarded the flight unassisted, occasionally smiling in relief and thanking us as they passed through the aisles.

“As much as I am relieved to leave the horror I can’t describe in Gaza, I can’t imagine eating, drinking or sleeping without thinking of my family back home,” said Abdelrahman Hussam Zyada, 31, who was accompanying his mother, a cancer patient.

The war, which he calls “hell from a horror film,” has already killed 50 members of his family and levelled the area where they lived to the ground. He has no clue if he will ever see his nine siblings, their children, and his remaining relatives.

“This is my first time on a plane. I have only traveled in my dreams. In Gaza, we can’t dream. We build our homes before they are destroyed all over again. Our dreams are always shattered.”

Traumatized and in shock, teenagers who either accompanioned sick elderly family members or were seeking treatment themselves walked down the aisles of the aircraft as if they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

A couple of children, too young to comprehend the situation, either played in joy or squirmed in pain.

Sitting in the front row of the plane, three-year-old Karma Al-Khateeb was unable to ignore her pain despite the attempts by her mother Douaa Abu Rahma and a cabin crew member to distract her with a coloring book and crayons. The young leukemia patient had a fever that affected a nerve on her face after her case could not be attended to due to the collapse of hospitals in Gaza.

It took about six hours to carefullly get all patients on board and ensure their needs were met before a final headcount was made and the plane left for Abu Dhabi.

“If the evacuation had taken longer and we crossed the maximum number of hours allowed for the cabin crew per shift, we would have had to go to Cairo and change the crew before flying back to Abu Dhabi,” Joe Coughlan, flight medical commander, told me.

Silence quickly took over during the flight to Abu Dhabi after passengers had their first proper meal and rest in nearly two months.

With dreamy eyes and an innocent smile, two-year-old Mohammed, who had no family except his ailing grandmother on the flight, climbed on my lap and played on the plane’s small screen for hours before falling asleep in peace.

It was difficult to comprehend that thousands of children like him will go to bed with the possibility that they will not see the next day.

Along with my media colleagues, I left the aircraft, which landed in Abu Dhabi at 5 a.m. the next morning, knowing that the televised images of the war will now strike much deeper.

Britain’s maritime agency reports possible Red Sea blast

Britain’s maritime agency reports possible Red Sea blast
Updated 03 December 2023

Britain’s maritime agency reports possible Red Sea blast

Britain’s maritime agency reports possible Red Sea blast

RIYADH: Britain’s Maritime Trade Operations agency (UKMTO) on Sunday said that it has received reports of drone activity and a possible explosion in the Red Sea’s Bab Al-Mandab strait.
UKMTO said the drone activity originated from Yemen, and called on vessels in the vicinity to exercise caution.
Reuters wasn’t immediately able to confirm the reports.
The incident is the latest in a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters since war broke out between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Oct. 7.
An Israeli-linked cargo ship was seized last month by the Houthi group, an ally of Iran which controls Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The group had previously fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel, and vowed to target more Israeli vessels.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis on Sunday’s incident.
Last week, a US Navy warship responded to a distress call from an Israeli-managed commercial tanker in the Gulf of Aden that had been seized by armed individuals.

Israeli raids claim hundreds of lives in Gaza, unrest in West Bank heightens

Israeli raids claim hundreds of lives in Gaza, unrest in West Bank heightens
Updated 03 December 2023

Israeli raids claim hundreds of lives in Gaza, unrest in West Bank heightens

Israeli raids claim hundreds of lives in Gaza, unrest in West Bank heightens
  • The Gaza media office reported at least 700 people were killed by Israeli bombing overnight
  • Israeli settlers attacked two Palestinian villages in the West Bank killing one man

DUBAI: Israeli air raids on Rafah, Khan Younis and Nuseirat refugee camp killed hundreds of Palestinians, reports from the Gaza Strip on Sunday said, while Israeli settlers attacked two Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank.

In Gaza, an account called the Gaza media office reported on Sunday that at least 700 people were killed by Israeli bombing overnight. 

The Hamas-led interior ministry also said that seven Palestinians were killed and several injured in an Israeli raid on a house east of Rafah city in southern Gaza earlier in the day.  

Palestinian News Agency WAFA quoted local sources as saying warplanes bombed two homes in the Nuseirat refugee camp, killing at least 13 people. 

Palestinian health officials reported that Israeli planes destroyed several houses in Al-Karara town near Khan Younis that killed several others. 

The southern part of Gaza, including Khan Younis, is where hundreds of thousands of people displaced from the north of the enclave had sought refuge. 

On Sunday morning, the Israeli military’ posted a statement on X ordering Palestinians the Gaza Strip to immediately evacuate half a dozen areas in and around Khan Younis. 

The military’s Arabic-language spokesman Avichay Adraee instructed them to move to what he described as “well-known IDP (internally displaced person) shelters” west of the city, including south toward Rafah, and included a map highlighting the areas. 

With renewed fighting stretching into a third day, residents feared the air and artillery bombardment was just the prelude to an Israeli ground operation in the southern strip that would pen them into a shrinking area and possibly try to push them across into Egypt. 

‘Safe zones’  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel was coordinating with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians. 

But UN officials and people in Gaza say it is difficult to heed Israeli evacuation orders in real time because of patchy Internet access and no regular supply of electricity amid Israel’s military offensive.   

In the West Bank, Israeli settlers attacked two Palestinian villages late on Saturday, killing one man and torching a car, Palestinian authorities said. 
The Palestinian ambulance service said a 38-year-old man in the town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, in the northern West Bank, was shot in the chest and died as residents confronted settlers and Israeli soldiers. 
The Israeli military said soldiers arrived at the scene and used riot dispersal means and live fire to break up the confrontation between residents and settlers. It said Palestinians shot fireworks in response and an Israeli and four Palestinians were injured. The incident was being examined and had been handed over to police, it said. 
In another incident, Wajih Al-Qat, head of the local council of the village of Madama near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, said a group of about 15 settlers burned the car and broke the windows of a house with stones. 

A member of the Israeli border police runs during a raid at the Balata camp for Palestinian refugees, east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on November 23, 2023. (AFP)


US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza
Updated 03 December 2023

US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza
  • Kamala Harris says Israel has a right to defend itself but must respect international, humanitarian law
  • King Abdullah stresses the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for peace in Palestine

GAZA/CAIRO: US Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians had been killed in Gaza as Israeli war planes and artillery bombarded the enclave on Saturday following the collapse of a truce with Hamas militants.
Speaking in Dubai, Harris said Israel had a right to defend itself, but international and humanitarian law must be respected and “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza, are devastating,” Harris told reporters.
On the sidelines of COP28, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President met in Dubai, reported the Jordan News Agency.
King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution, during his meeting with Harris.
The King called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and protecting civilians, warning of the repercussions of the continued war on international peace and security, including further violence and conflict that could plunge the entire region into a catastrophe.
The two sides reaffirmed their rejection of any attempts of forced displacement of the Palestinians internally or outside Gaza, or attempts to re-occupy any parts of the Strip, reported Petra.
King Abdullah also stressed the importance of maintaining the uninterrupted delivery of sufficient aid, including food, water, fuel, and electricity, without any impediments, warning against the targeting of hospitals and hindering the delivery of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Harris thanked King Abdullah for his continued leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Jordan’s leadership in providing vital humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including its three airdrops of medical supplies to the field hospital that it has established in Gaza.
She discussed the importance of the recent pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting efforts to reach a new deal. She also discussed the US ideas for post-conflict planning in Gaza, including efforts on reconstruction, security, and governance.
The US vice president emphasized that these efforts can only succeed if they are pursued in the context of a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people, toward a state of their own led by a revitalized Palestinian Authority and backed by significant support from the international community and the countries of the region.
In a news conference in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Saturday that Israel was continuing to work in coordination with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians.
“This is important because we have no desire to harm the population,” Netanyahu said. “We have a very strong desire to hurt Hamas.”
Harris also sketched out a US vision for post-conflict Gaza, saying the international community must support recovery and Palestinian security forces must be strengthened.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said, adding that Hamas must no longer run Gaza.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.

* With Reuters