The Middle East certainly has had its fair share of problems — most of them political and war-related. But now a new enemy is at large, and this one is impossible to contain, let alone conquer — Mother Nature. The countries of the Middle East are accustomed and prepared for scorching days. Some days in Iraq and Iran reach 118 degrees without anyone batting an eye. The desert climate means it almost never rains, and the people of the region have acclimated well. Although their garments seem oppressive, white clothing and face coverings may actually help to deflect the heat of the summer sun. But the Middle East is facing an unusually difficult period, worse than any can remember in recent years.
News.com.au minces no words when it calls it a hellish heat wave. Zainab Guman, a 26-year-old university student from Basra, says the 140 degree days feels like your skin is literally melting off of your body. She says leaving the house is all but impossible.
“It’s like everything on your body — your skin, your eyes, your nose — starts to burn. I barely leave the house.”
This could certainly affect the health of those who are affected by respiratory diseases, including asthma. But the situation is far more serious than that, officials say, with the temperatures potentially affecting water and food sources for much of the Middle East, whose residents are already far more likely to be food-insecure that those in the United States. More disturbing, a study by climate scientists released last year predicted that extreme heat waves could push the Gulf in the Middle East beyond the point of human endurance if nothing was done about climate change, killing all sustaining water and vegetative sources.
Professor Elfatih Eltahir, co-author of the study, says the Middle East could become unlivable by 2070 if nothing stops the effects of greenhouse emissions.
“We would hope that information like this would be helpful in making sure there is interest (in reducing emissions) for the countries in the region. They have a vital interest in supporting measures that would help reduce the concentration of CO2 in the future.”
Dr. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a research fellow at UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, agrees. She says that historically, heatwaves have killed more people than anything else in history. She warned that those of lower socioeconomic status were particularly at risk for death due to heat exhaustion and dehydration.
“People in the Middle East are used to the heat. It’s part of their culture. They’ve experienced high temperatures before. But it’s getting more frequent, and people of a certain status are going to suffer a lot more. If you work outside in these conditions you will not survive. These are the people who can’t afford clean drinking water or to sit in the shade — they’re typically of a lower socio-economic status.”
Also of great concern are military troops in the Middle East, who are likely encountering temperatures that are forty to sixty degrees greater than anything they have encountered before. This could quickly result in heat exhaustion and, in some cases, death.
There is more at risk than meets the immediate eye, researchers warn. Famine and drought will ensue, which may drive people to mass immigration, some of it illegal, creating political unrest. In turn, that added populous will strain other countries’ resources, which may lead them into drought and famine themselves. With government help so unreliable in these areas, life is very uncertain for those in the sweltering Middle East.
Even if the government responded quickly to help the people of this region, Dr. Kirkpatrick says the only viable long-term solution is for all countries of the world to adopt low-carbon emission policies.
[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]