Climbing Mount Arafat as part of the Muslim pilgrimage will be more challenging in a warmer future. Photo: © Shutterstock – mirzavisoko

MENA region one of the most threatened by climate heating

Droughts, sandstorms and flash flooding: In the southern Moroccan oasis M'Hamid El Ghizlane, the effects that global warming is likely to have on the Mediterranean region can already be observed today. People are experiencing the consequences of climate change across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region), from floods in Jeddah to rising sea levels in the Mediterranean that are putting many coastal cities at risk, says the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, has the opposite problem. As sea levels rise, the city of five million people is sinking. High water levels are flooding the basements of buildings near Alexandria’s waterfront.

The World Bank declared in 2016 that the MENA region is among the most vulnerable places on earth to rising sea levels. Forecasting a 0.5-metre rise by 2099, its report warned that “low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait and particularly Egypt are at particular risk”.

Temperature records have been repeatedly broken in the MENA region in recent years. The highest recorded temperature in the region to date was 54°C at Mitribah, Kuwait in 2016. In the same week, Basra in Iraq recorded 53.9°C. In June 2017, Sweihan, Abu Dhabi reached a record high of 50.4°C.

The region has been subject to an almost continuous drought since 1998, according to NASA, which says the current dry period is the worst for 900 years. The World Bank, which is spending $1.5 billion to fight climate change in the region, estimates that 80–100 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2025.

By 2050, temperatures in the MENA region will be 4°C higher, according to Germany’s Max Planck Institute. By the end of the century, daytime highs could reach 50°C, with 200 days of exceptional heat every year. And without urgent action to curb global emissions, according to research, cities in the region may become uninhabitable before 2100.

Over two million Muslim travellers attend the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, travelling during some of the country’s hottest weather. A new study projecting future summer temperatures in the region around Mecca finds that as early as 2020, summer days in Saudi Arabia could surpass the United States National Weather Service’s extreme danger heat-stress threshold, at a wet-bulb temperature of 29.1°C (84.3 degrees Fahrenheit). Wet-bulb temperature is a measurement combining temperature with the amount of moisture in the air. At the extreme danger threshold defined by the National Weather Service, sweat no longer evaporates efficiently, so the human body cannot cool itself and overheats. Exposure to these conditions for long periods of time, such as during Hajj, could cause heat stroke and possibly death. Their projections estimate heat and humidity levels during Hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold six percent of the time by 2020, 20 percent of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42 percent of the time between 2079 and 2086.

Saudi Arabia is also facing some of the worst risks from soaring temperatures. This summer, the temperature in Al Majmaah, a city in central Saudi Arabia, reached 55°C  (131 degrees Fahrenheit), while rapid desertification was reported throughout the Arabian peninsula.

Compiled by Reinhold Pape



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