Published on Arab Voices

Two Scenarios for a Hotter and Drier Arab World—And What We Can Do About It

The establishment of grazing set-aside areas is particularly relevant in times of drought. Dikhil, DjiboutiIf you think the summers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are hot—think again. Summers are likely to become much warmer. Global temperatures are rising; the question now is by how much and what the impact of them will be. People in the region already face very high summer temperatures—and these could get worse. Compared to the rest of the world, the MENA region will suffer disproportionally from extreme heat. The latest climate science—outlined in our new report Turn Down the Heat —  suggests a couple of possible scenarios for MENA, looking at the likely impact of the rate of present day (0.8°C) warming across the region, as well as higher rates of 2°C and 4°C.
In a 2°C hotter world, the annual number of days with exceptionally high temperatures and high thermal discomfort is expected to increase in some of the region’s capital cities, from 4 to 62 days in Amman (Jordan), 8 to 90 days in Baghdad (Iraq), and 1 to 71 days in Damascus (Syria). The greatest increases are expected in Beirut (Lebanon) and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), where the numbers of hot days are projected to reach 126 and 132 days per year respectively. In a 4°C hotter world, the average number of hot days is projected to exceed 115 days per year in all of these cities. That would make for a very long and very hot summer.
What would this mean for the region?
MENA is the most water scarce region in the world. The availability of renewable water sources is generally below 1,000m 3 per capita per year (with the exception of a few countries), and as low as 16m 3 per capita in the United Arab Emirates. This compares to about 3,500m 3 per capita per year in Mexico, 4,500m 3 in East Asia Pacific countries, and 9,000m 3 in the USA. But the region has already done an impressive job coping with its inherent water scarcity; Yemen’s climate smart agriculture and Djibouti’s adoption of drought resistance management techniques are both examples of this. So there is no reason to doubt that it can also adapt to the new environment.  It’s just that the stakes have become much higher.
Over time, rainfall is expected to decrease in the Maghreb and Mashreq regions. Lower rainfall, coupled with an increase in evaporation, will render local conditions even more arid. From the current situation of critical water and arable land scarcity, both the 2°C and 4°C warming scenarios would put further pressure on water resources and agriculture.  Lower rainfall and higher temperatures will shorten the growing period of some crops. Some crop yields are expected to drop by 30 percent in a 2°C world and by 60 percent in a 4°C. For a region dependent on food imports, this could have serious consequences for food prices.
In addition, mountainous areas in Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey play an important role in the water supply of the region as they store a fraction of rainfall as snow. Projected reduction in snowfall and snow water storage will further decline water availability.
But this does not have to be our future
Together, we can take action to reduce climate change by placing a high price on carbon; reducing harmful fossil fuel subsidies; increasing investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy; encouraging climate smart agriculture; and building low carbon, climate resilient cities. Already, Yemen has increased its crop yields by improving local seed varieties and Morocco has invested massively in solar power, setting a regional—and global—example in reducing dependency on fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
This is a start, but we need to do more before the summers get even longer and hotter.


Maria Sarraf

Practice Manager for the Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy in West Africa

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