Ukraine conflict intensifies existing humanitarian crises in the MENA region

Advertisements

 

Ukraine conflict intensifies existing humanitarian crises in the MENA region, warns the IFRC

Iranian Red Crescent Society teams install safe water points in the country in March 2022 to help communities cope during the ongoing severe drought.   Photo: Iranian Red Crescent Society

16 June 2022, Beirut – The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continues to face multiple and complex crises from conflicts to climate change and displacement. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) today issued a rapid assessment report focusing on the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the humanitarian situation in the MENA region.

The findings of the assessment confirmed that the conflict intensifies the impact of pre-existing crises and trends and increases the vulnerability of most countries.

Rania Ahmed, Deputy Regional Director of IFRC MENA said: “The global economic and security impact of the conflict in Ukraine could be the proverbial last straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing already fragile countries in the MENA region over the tipping point.”

The assessment’s main findings show that food security and livelihoods are the two most affected sectors. Currently, there are 56 million people in need of food in the region. Data show that the number could increase by 25% over the next six months because of the global food price index increase that has hit a record high. Twelve countries from the MENA region have experienced a dramatic increase in the price of basic food items. In Lebanon, prices have increased by 75-100%. In Iran and Yemen prices went up by 50-75%. Currently, five million people are facing food insecurity in the region. An estimated 1.9 million could slide into hunger.

MENA countries source up to 85% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. The agriculture industry in the region has already been severely affected by a combination of disrupted supply chains, water scarcity, and increasing temperatures.

With donors’ attention turned towards the Ukraine crisis, there is a risk that the humanitarian funding for MENA countries might drop. Lack of access to donor funding will only amplify the existing humanitarian crisis in several MENA countries. For the millions of Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Syrians, and others who live in countries experiencing conflict, catastrophic economic meltdowns, and increasing humanitarian needs, this would be equivalent to shutting down critical life support.

Finally, energy and oil-importing countries are experiencing additional social stress as they witness a 25-75% increase of fuel prices. In Syria and Yemen, fuel shortages and a lack of electricity is already severely impacting the delivery of basic services. The compounded crisis trends in Lebanon, including the sharp increase in energy prices resulting from the Ukraine crisis, have the potential to push the country over the tipping point to become a “critical crisis”.

Click here to access the full report.

Notes to the editor:

Methodology: This rapid assessment aims to contribute to the ongoing analysis and scenario development to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to evolving crisis trends in the MENA region, with specific considerations on how the Ukraine conflict is a risk multiplier to existing crisis trends. The assessment was carried out between 25 April and 3 June 2022 using secondary data and a perception survey of 24 representatives of National Societies and IFRC Heads of Delegation.

For more information:

Rania Ahmed, Deputy Regional Director, IFRC MENA: rania.ahmed@ifrc.org

The above-featured image is of the World Bank.

 

 

 

As it bakes, Egypt looks to the cooling power of the sea for help

Advertisements
Photo: Shutterstock/Octasy
As Egypt bakes, it looks to the cooling power of the sea for help now that technological advances would allow it . . .

As anyone who visits Egypt between the months of May to September can attest, the weather gets hot, often uncomfortably so.

That is especially true in Cairo—a megacity home to nearly 22 million people—where the mercury can hit 40°C. Those sky-high temperatures are partially a product of the so-called ‘heat island effect,’ which sees buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s warmth more than natural landscapes.

Research shows that things will only get worse for cities due to the climate crisis. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that by the year 2100, many cities across the world could warm as much as 4°C if greenhouse gas emissions continue “at high levels,” – a potential health hazard for inhabitants.

With millions of people in need of air conditioning, it’s no surprise that so much of the power consumption in Cairo is related to cooling. “During the peak summer months, 50 per cent of the electric power goes to air conditioning,” said Alaa Olama, a UNEP consultant, the Head of the Egyptian District Cooling Code and the author of the book District Cooling: Theory and Practice.

Egypt is currently building 22 ‘smart cities’, making the country an ideal location for state-of-the-art cooling technologies, said Olama. Many of those efforts have focused on developing city-wide cooling systems that do not rely on electricity from fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

This is particularly important in the fight against climate change because cities contribute greatly to global warming. Rising global temperatures and warming cities create a vicious cycle where increased demand for cooling systems adds to carbon dioxide emissions that further contribute to global warming and create the need for even more cooling.

According to the International Energy Agency, cooling produces more than 7 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions are expected to roughly double by 2050. Amidst rising temperatures, the number of air conditioners in use is expected to rise to 4.5 billion by 2050 from 1.2 billion today.

To help break this cycle, UNEP is working with governments to adopt more climate-friendly cooling practices. For example, UNEP recently concluded a feasibility study on a district cooling system called the Seawater Air-conditioning system for New Alamein City, on the north coast of the country.

Here is how the Seawater Air-conditioning system works: Coldwater taken from deep in the Mediterranean Sea is pumped into a cooling station and passed through a heat exchanger, where it absorbs heat from buildings. Cool air generated from the cold water is used to maintain comfortable temperatures in the buildings, while the warm water is sent back into the sea.

Initially, the project would consist of a single district cooling plant to be built over two years, with 30,000 Tones of Refrigeration (TR) capacity, sufficient to cool entire neighborhoods. The Seawater Air-conditioning system is estimated to cost US$117 million in building production facilities and a further US$20-25 million for the distribution network.

With this cooling system, the city would reduce refrigerants emissions by 99 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent. This is particularly important because these reductions will help Egypt meet its requirements to phase-down hydrofluorocarbon emissions established by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This landmark multilateral environmental agreement regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals called ozone-depleting substances.

Since many ozone-depleting substances also contribute to global warming, the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment – which provides for phasing down harmful greenhouse gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration and foam insulation – is expected to avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by the end of this century. This represents a major step in the commitment to limit global warming to below 2°C under the Paris Agreement.

The feasibility study to assess the potential for district cooling in New Alamein City will be published in late May 2022. It is expected to analyze whether it would be financially and technically viable to build a district cooling solution that would reduce or avoid using hydrofluorocarbons.

The study was initiated through the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol, and UNEP supported the development of an institutional framework. The efforts are being elevated through UNEP District Energy in Cities Initiative, which is taking the study to the level of execution.

UNEP’s support for the study is part of a larger effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come with cooling.

In Egypt, UNEP’s OzonAction team is also supporting the development, update, enactment and enforcement of specialized nation-wide codes for ACs, district cooling and refrigerant management, as well as green procurement processes.

The UNEP-led Cool Coalition is helping cities in India, Viet Nam and Cambodia develop environmentally-friendly cooling strategies. It is also supporting the construction of networks of freezers, known as cold chains, that can hold everything from farm produce to COVID-19 vaccines.

The concept of using cold water to provide cooling for cities has taken root globally. For instance, in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, the local government implemented the largest lake-source cooling system in the world. Commissioned in 2004, Enwave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling system uses cold lake water as a renewable energy source. Similar large-scale projects have also been built in the United States and France.

This technology, which was pioneered in the West, has in recent years become popular in the East in the Gulf and Emirate States, which boast the greatest number of district cooling technologies. “It’s an important solution for new cities,” said Olama.

 

Hosted by Sweden, the theme of World Environment Day on 5 June 2022 is #OnlyOneEarth – with a focus on ‘Living Sustainably in Harmony With Nature’. Follow #OnlyOneEarth on social media and take transformative, global action, because protecting and restoring this planet is a global responsibility. 

Follow the World Environment Day live feed for updates.

UNEP is at the forefront of supporting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, and aiming for 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution, a roadmap to reducing emissions across sectors in line with the Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are: Energy; Industry; Agriculture & Food; Forests & Land Use; Transport; and Buildings & Cities.

 

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

Advertisements

Cornell University in a research supported by Qatar Foundation concluded a study that holds that deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor. So what? Did we know that in the MENA region that is at more 90% desert?

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

By David Nutt 

Deserts may seem lifeless and inert, but they are very much alive. Sand dunes, in particular, grow and move – and according to a decades-long research project, they also breathe humid air.

The findings show for the first time how water vapor penetrates powders and grains, and could have wide-ranging applications far beyond the desert – in pharmaceutical research, agriculture and food processing, as well as planetary exploration.

The team’s paper, “Water Vapor Transport Across an Arid Sand Surface – Non-Linear Thermal Coupling, Wind-Driven Pore Advection, Subsurface Waves, and Exchange with the Atmospheric Boundary Layer,” published March 21 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface.

Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, pictured here in Qatar in 2012, has been using capacitance probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes since the early 2000s.

The project, led by lead author Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, has spanned not only a great deal of time but also a variety of terrain. It began nearly 40 years ago when Louge was studying the behavior of fluids, gasses and solid particles.

Wanting to measure matter with greater sensitivity, he and his students developed a new form of instrumentation called capacitance probes, which use multiple sensors to record everything from solid concentration to velocity to water content, all with unprecedented spatial resolution.

When a colleague at the University of Utah suggested the technology might be helpful in imaging the layers of mountain snowpacks and assessing the likelihood of avalanches, Louge went to his garage, grabbed some probes and tested them out in a snowstorm. Soon he struck up a partnership with a company, Capacitec Inc, to combine their respective skills in geometry and electronics. The resulting probes also proved useful in hydrology research.

In the early 2000s, Louge began collaborating with Ahmed Ould el-Moctar from University of Nantes, France, to use the probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes to better understand the process by which agricultural lands turn to desert – an interest that has only become more urgent with the rise of global climate change.

“The future of the Earth, if we continue this way, is a desert,” Louge said.

Whereas other probes can measure large volumes of matter, Louge’s probes go deep and small, collecting data on a millimetric scale to pinpoint the exact amount of moisture in – and the density of – sand. To function in a new environment, though, the probes needed to be modified. And so began a decadelong process of trial and error, as Louge made periodic trips to deserts in Qatar and Mauritania experimenting with different versions of the probe.

The probe eventually revealed just how porous sand is, with a tiny amount of air seeping through it. Previous research had hinted this type of seepage existed in sand dunes, but no one had been able to prove it until now.

“The wind flows over the dune and as a result creates imbalances in the local pressure, which literally forces air to go into the sand and out of the sand. So the sand is breathing, like an organism breathes,” Louge said.

That “breathing” is what allows microbes to persist deep inside hyper-arid sand dunes, despite the high temperature. For much of the last decade, Louge has been collaborating with Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to study how microbes can help stabilize the dunes and prevent them from encroaching into roads and infrastructure.

Louge and his team also determined that desert surfaces exchange less moisture with the atmosphere than expected, and that water evaporation from individual sand grains behaves like a slow chemical reaction.

The bulk of their data was gathered in 2011, but it still took Louge and his collaborators another decade to make sense of some of the findings, such as identifying disturbances at the surface level that force evanescent, or nonlinear, waves of humidity to propagate downward through the dunes very quickly.

“We could have published the data 10 years ago to report the accuracy of our approach,” Louge said. “But it wasn’t satisfying until we understood what was going on. Nobody really had done anything like this before. This is the first time that such low levels of humidity could be measured.”

The researchers anticipate their probe will have a number of applications – from studying the way soils imbibe or drain water in agriculture, to calibrating satellite observations over deserts, to exploring extraterrestrial environments that may hold trace amounts of water. That wouldn’t be the first time Louge’s research made its way into space.

But perhaps the most immediate application is the detection of moisture contamination in pharmaceuticals. Since 2018, Louge has been collaborating with Merck to use the probes in continuous manufacturing, which is viewed as a faster, more efficient and less expensive system than batch manufacturing.

“If you want to do continuous manufacturing, you have to have probes that will allow you, as a function of time, and everywhere that’s important, to check that you have the right behavior of your process,” Louge said.

Co-authors include Ould el-Moctar; Jin Xu, Ph.D. ’14; and Alexandre Valance and Patrick Chasle with the University of Rennes, France.

The research was supported by the Qatar Foundation.

.

One Of The World’s Wealthiest Oil Exporters Is Becoming Unlivable

Advertisements

Trying to catch a bus at the Maliya station in Kuwait City can be unbearable in the summer.
About two-thirds of the city’s buses pass through the hub, and schedules are unreliable. Fumes from bumper-to-bumper traffic fill the air. Small shelters offer refuge to a handful of people, if they squeeze. Dozens end up standing in the sun, sometimes using umbrellas to shield themselves.

Here is the story as told by Fiona MacDonald (Bloomberg) as published by gCaptain on 16 January 2022.

The image above is for illustration and is of State Magazine.

Kuwait, One Of The World’s Wealthiest Oil Exporters Is Becoming Unlivable

“The Al Burqan Oil Field can be seen in this north-looking view. The country of Kuwait possesses about one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves. To the north of the Al Burqan Oil Field, Kuwait City is discernible. New pivot-irrigation fields (dark circular features) developed since the end of the Gulf War are visible to the west (left) of the city. Oil refineries and large tanker facilities are discernible along the Persian Gulf coast.” NASA Photo ID STS080-733-21

Global warming is smashing temperature records all over the world, but Kuwait — one of the hottest countries on the planet — is fast becoming unlivable. In 2016, thermometers hit 54C, the highest reading on Earth in the last 76 years. Last year, for the first time, they breached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in June, weeks ahead of usual peak weather. Parts of Kuwait could get as much as 4.5C hotter from 2071 to 2100 compared with the historical average, according to the Environment Public Authority, making large areas of the country uninhabitable.

For wildlife, it almost is. Dead birds appear on rooftops in the brutal summer months, unable to find shade or water. Vets are inundated with stray cats, brought in by people who’ve found them near death from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Even wild foxes are abandoning a desert that no longer blooms after the rains for what small patches of green remain in the city, where they’re treated as pests.

“This is why we are seeing less and less wildlife in Kuwait, it’s because most of them aren’t making it through the seasons,” said Tamara Qabazard, a Kuwaiti zoo and wildlife veterinarian. “Last year, we had three to four days at the end of July that were incredibly humid and very hot, and it was hard to even walk outside your house, and there was no wind. A lot of the animals started having respiratory problems.”

Unlike countries from Bangladesh to Brazil  that are struggling to balance environmental challenges with teeming populations and widespread poverty, Kuwait is OPEC’s number 4 oil-exporter. Home to the world’s third-largest sovereign wealth fund and just over 4.5 million people, it’s not a lack of resources that stands in the way of cutting greenhouse gases and adapting to a warmer planet, but rather political inaction.

Even Kuwait’s neighbors, also dependent on crude exports, have pledged to take stronger climate action. Saudi Arabia last year said it would target net-zero emissions by 2060. The United Arab Emirates has set a goal of 2050. Though they remain among the biggest producers of fossil fuels, both say they are working to diversify their economies and investing in renewables and cleaner energy. The next two United Nations climate conferences will take place in Egypt and the UAE, as Middle East governments acknowledge they also stand to lose from rising temperatures and sea levels.

Kuwait, by contrast, pledged at the COP26 summit in November to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7.4% by 2035, a target that falls far short of the 45% reduction needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s stretch goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C by 2030. The nation’s $700 billion sovereign wealth fund invests with the specific aim of hedging against oil, but has said that returns remain a priority as it shifts to more sustainable investing.

“Compared with the rest of the Middle East, Kuwait lags in its climate action,” said Manal Shehabi, an academic visitor at Oxford University who studies the Gulf nations. In a region that’s far from doing enough to avoid catastrophic global warming, “climate pledges in Kuwait are [still] significantly lower.”

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, head of the EPA, told COP26 that his country was keen to support international initiatives to stabilize the climate. Kuwait also pledged to adopt a “national low carbon strategy” by mid-century, but it hasn’t said what this will involve and there is little evidence of action on the ground.

That prompted one Twitter user to post pictures of wilted palm trees, asking how his government had the nerve to show up.

Jassim Al-Awadhi is part of a younger generation of Kuwaitis increasingly worried about their country’s future. The 32-year-old former banker quit his job to push for a change that experts argue could be Kuwait’s key to addressing global warming: revamping attitudes toward transportation. His goal is to get Kuwaitis to embrace public transport, which today consists only of the buses that are mostly used by migrant workers with low-paying jobs who have no choice but to put up with the heat.

It’s an uphill struggle. Though Kuwait has among the world’s highest carbon-dioxide emissions per capita, the idea of ditching their cars is completely foreign to most residents in a country where petrol is cheaper than Coca Cola and cities are designed for automobiles.

The London School of Economics, which conducted the only comprehensive survey of climate opinions in Kuwait, found older residents remain skeptical of the urgency, with some speaking of a conspiracy to hobble Gulf economies. In a public consultation, everyone over 50-years-old opposed plans to build a metro network like those already operating in Riyadh and Dubai. And the private sector sees climate change as a problem that requires government leadership to solve.

“When I tell companies let’s do something, they say it’s not their business,’’ Al-Awadhi said. “They make me feel I’m the only one who has problems with transport.”

That’s partly because most Kuwaitis and wealthy residents are shielded from the effects of rising temperatures. Homes, shopping malls and cars are air-conditioned, and those who can afford it often spend summers in Europe. Yet, the heavy reliance on cooling systems also increases the use of fossil fuels, leading to ever hotter temperatures.

The situation is much worse for those who can’t escape the heat, mainly laborers from developing countries. Though the government prohibits peak afternoon outdoor work during the hottest summer months, migrant workers are often seen toiling in the sun. A study published in Science Direct last year found that on extremely hot days, the overall number of deaths doubles, but it triples for non-Kuwaiti men, more likely to take on low-paid work.

It’s a cycle that’s all too clear to Saleh Khaled Al-Misbah. Born in 1959, he remembers growing up when homes rarely had air conditioners, yet felt cool and shaded, even in the hottest months. As a child, he played outside through months of cooler weather and slept on the roof in the summers; it’s too hot for that now. Children spend most of the year indoors to protect them from either burning sun or hazardous pollution, something that’s contributed to deficiencies in vitamin D — which humans generate when exposed to the sun — and respiratory ailments.

Temperature changes in the 2040s and 2050s will have an increasingly negative impact on Kuwait’s creditworthiness, according to Fitch Ratings. Yet despite the growing risks, squabbling between the Gulf’s only elected parliament and a government appointed by the ruling family has made it difficult to push through reforms, on climate or anything else.

“The political deadlock in Kuwait just sucks the oxygen out of the air,” said Samia Alduaij, a Kuwaiti environmental consultant who works with the U.K.’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and UNDP. “This is a very rich country, with a very small population, so it could be so much better.”

So far, there’s been little progress on plans to produce 15% of Kuwait’s power from renewable sources by 2030, from a maximum of 1% now. Oil is so abundant that it’s burned to generate electricity, as well as fuel the 2 million cars on the road, contributing to air pollution. Some power plants have switched to gas, another fossil fuel that’s relatively cleaner but can leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Consumption of electricity and water, heavily subsidized by the government, is among the world’s highest per capita, and it’s proven politically toxic to even hint at cutting those benefits.

“That obviously leads to a lot of waste,” said Tarek Sultan, vice chairman of Agility Public Warehousing Co. When fossil-fuel powered electricity “is subsidized, solar technologies that can provide viable solutions get priced out of the competition,” he said. 

Even if the world manages to cut emissions quickly enough to stave off catastrophic global warming, countries will have to adapt to more extreme weather. As it stands, experts say Kuwait’s plan is nowhere near enough to keep the country livable.

If it starts now, said Nadim Farajalla, director of the climate change and environment program at University of Beirut, a lot can be done in the coming decades, but that would need to include protection against rising sea levels, making cities greener and buildings less energy intensive. It also needs to focus on transport, a leading cause of CO2 emissions.

Khaled Mahdi, secretary general of Kuwait’s Supreme Council for Planning and Development, said the government’s adaptation plan is aligned with international policies. “We clearly identify roles and responsibilities, and all the challenges in the country,” he said, though he admitted that “implementation is the usual challenging issue.”

If the government is dragging its feet, young Kuwaitis like Al-Awadhi aren’t.

His advocacy group Kuwait Commute is starting small by campaigning for bus stop shelters to protect passengers from the sun. National Bank of Kuwait, the country’s biggest lender, recently sponsored a bus stop designed by three female graduates. Still, like much of the private sector, they remain outside the decision-making process.

“I think I’m finally making progress,” said Al-Awadhi, who hopes that getting more Kuwaitis to ride buses will fuel enough demand to improve the service. But “it has to be driven by the government. It’s the chicken before the egg.”

–With assistance from Akshat Rathi and Hayley Warren.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

Advertisements

A greater number of Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events. It is a story by Kareem Botane and Robert Edwards in Arab News and it does give us a down to earth picture of this region of the MENA as illustrated by the image above of AN Photos/Kareem Botane.

All along the banks of the once-mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years.

  • Once flourishing communities along Tigris River face existential crisis as high temperatures become the norm
  • Iraq’s President Barham Salih says climate change is by far the most serious long-term threat facing the country

MOSUL / BOGOTA: Caked in the fine yellow dust kicked up by his tractor-drawn planter, Farman Noori Latif jumps down to survey his work. He has spent the morning sowing wheat seed on his farm near the banks of the Tigris River, just south of Mosul in northern Iraq.

It is late in the season to be sowing wheat, but the 30-year-old has been holding out for a much-needed spell of autumn rain. The earth might still be parched under the baking sun but it is now or never if he wants his crops in the ground before winter sets in.

“Today is November 2 and the weather is hot. It shouldn’t be like this,” Latif told Arab News as he inspected the soil he and his family have farmed for four generations. “We are supposed to have this weather in September, not now.”

Latif is not alone in fighting a losing battle against the elements. The UN Environment Program’s sixth Global Environmental Outlook report, published in 2019, ranked Iraq fifth on the list of countries most vulnerable in terms of water and food availability and extreme temperatures.

All along the banks of the once-mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years, forcing many among the rural population to abandon the land in search of work in the cities.

“We have lost everything due to the lack of rain and the hot weather,” Ameer Khthr Yousif, a 30-year-old farmer and fisherman selling his catch on a Qayyarah roadside, told Arab News.

“We farmers depend on the Tigris River for our agriculture. If the situation continues, everyone here will leave farming to find other sources of income.”

Average temperatures in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and extreme heat events are becoming more frequent. According to the World Bank, mean annual temperatures in Iraq are expected to rise by 2 C by 2050, and mean annual rainfall to decrease by 9 percent.

Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years, according to the UN, leaving the country’s aquifers unreplenished and raising the salinity of the remaining groundwater.

“The groundwater has dried out here,” Latif said. “I have a well that is 30 meters deep without any water in it. All the wells here have dried out. Even if there is water in any of these wells, it will be red in color or salty.”


Hazim Mahamad Ebrahim, 60, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Soil degradation is causing dust storms to increase in scale and frequency. Between 1951 and 1990, Iraq experienced an average of 24 days a year with dust storms. In 2013, there were 122, according to the UN.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, published on Oct. 31 to coincide with the start of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said the economic and environmental effects of climate change are “by far the most serious long-term threat” facing the country.

“Very high temperatures are becoming more common, drought more frequent and dust storms more intense,” Salih said. “Desertification affects 39 percent of Iraq’s territory and increased salinization threatens agriculture on 54 percent of our land.”

Neighboring countries are also experiencing more frequent droughts and rising temperatures, leading to regional water disputes. Iraq’s water ministry said this year that water flows from Iran and Turkey had fallen by 50 percent during the summer.

“Dams on the headwaters and tributaries of the historic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — the lifeblood of our country — have reduced water flow, leading to shortages,” Salih said. “According to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, our country could face a shortfall of as much as 10.8 billion cubic meters of water annually by 2035.”


Farman Noori Latif, 30, a farmer and contractor from the village of Muhssin, Qarach area, Makhmur, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Salih said he is all too aware of the threat climate change poses to a country utterly reliant on oil revenues, whose booming youth population is simmering with pent-up frustration.

“Iraq’s population is projected to double from 40 million people today to 80 million by 2050, just as our income, largely based on oil production, will be drastically reduced as a result of the world abandoning fossil fuels as it moves to sustainable, clean energy,” he said.

“The loss of income may very well result in migration to cities whose infrastructure is even now incapable of supporting the existing population. This migration may well result in extremism and insecurity as young people are unable to find jobs that give them a decent standard of living.”

FASTFACTS

* Average temps. in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees since 1921.

* Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years.

* In 2013, Iraq experienced at least 122 days with dust storms.

Mohammed Abdullah Ibrahim, who has farmed his patch of land in Qayyarah for decades, said he has seen dramatic changes in the climate during his lifetime.

“I have been a farmer since the 1970s and I have never seen it this bad before,” the 64-year-old told Arab News.

Water shortages have forced local farmers to abandon many of the water-intensive fruit and vegetable crops once grown here. Among those that still grow, yields have halved, said Ibrahim.

“Before, it was sufficient,” he added. “You could grow enough and make a profit. In the past, we were employed only in farming; we did not need a job or salaries. But things have changed now. We have to find another job to make a living.

“If the situation continues like this, we will be entering a very dark future. The young generation will end up unemployed.”

Ibrahim’s neighbor, Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, has also observed a significant change in the local climate. “The heat wave we had last year, we have never had it like that before,” he told Arab News. “I am 56 years old; I have never experienced heat like that in my life.


Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, 56, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. Credit: (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“I know many farmers who have left their land and given up on farming. If the situation continues, I am afraid we will all move to the cities and leave farming behind, migrating from the villages because there will be nothing left for us to stay for.”

It is not only arable crop farmers who are struggling in the fierce heat. Sparse pasture, limited fodder and a shortage of fresh water have forced livestock farmers to sell or even cull their animals.

“Our animals have begun dying due to drought and the lack of rain,” Jamal Ali, a 49-year-old shepherd from Makhmur, told Arab News.

“Animals are very expensive these days. We have to buy fodder for our sheep and cows because our land cannot produce enough food for them due to the late rainy season and drought. We had to sell our sheep in order to compensate (for the loss). We have lost 50 percent of our income from animals and farming due to climate change.”

Dehydration has led to serious veterinary health problems among livestock, affecting their reproductive health.

“The changing climate has created many diseases among the animals,” said Ali. “The most common is birth defects. It is all due to the lack of rain and water.”


Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, 51, a farmer and mayor of Hoot Al-Foqani, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, mayor of the Qayyarah village of Hoot Al-Foqani, said the federal government in Baghdad has done little to subsidize farming and help prevent climate-induced rural displacement.

“We have lost more than 100,000 hectares of land due to the lack of rain and water. We have fewer animals compared to before, especially sheep,” he said.

“About 50 or 60 farmers have left here so far. We need support from international organizations as we already know that the government has limited capabilities. We hope they can do something for us, otherwise, the number of animals and farmers will decline in the coming years.”

Although the Iraqi government has launched a UN-backed National Adaptation Plan to improve the country’s resilience to climate change, few of the benefits have trickled down to sun-scorched farming communities along the Tigris.

Kneeling in the powdery earth to uproot a spindly yellow plant, Latif said Iraq’s farmers urgently need outside help if their way of life is to survive the relentlessly changing weather patterns.

“We have lost our hope in the Iraqi government; we want foreign countries to help us,” he said. “We do not have any other means of making a living. Farming is our only hope and without it, I cannot imagine how it will be.”

—————–