Soaring temperatures of 56°C could soon be a common occurrence across the Middle East, say experts, as climate change brings super and ultra-extreme heatwaves to the region.
The warning comes after extreme heat temperatures of almost 50°C were recorded across parts of the Arabian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, and Kuwait, in recent weeks. Local health experts say heat-related deaths are becoming common.
In the newly-published study, ‘Business-as-usual will lead to super and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa’, published in the journal Nature, researchers found that global climate projections suggest a significant intensification of summer heat extremes across MENA in the coming years.
The study indicated that the second half of the century will witness unprecedented “super and ultra-extreme heatwave conditions will emerge.”
“These events involve excessively high temperatures (up to 56 °C and higher) and will be of extended duration (several weeks), being potentially life-threatening for humans,” said lead author George Zittis, from the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center (CARE-C), at the Cyprus Institute.
The study claimed that by the end of the century about half of the MENA population - about 600 million people - could be exposed to annually recurring ultra-extreme heatwaves.
It is expected that the vast majority of the exposed population – more than 90 per cent - will live in urban centers and will need to cope with these societally disruptive weather conditions.
Experts supported the findings of the Nature report to Al Arabiya English.
At the end of May, several weather stations reported temperatures of up to 49°C across Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Oman, UAE, and Kuwait.
Omar Baddour, who is responsible for the World Meteorological Organization State of the Global Climate reports, said that rising temperatures are attributal to global emissions from human activities.
“There is no doubt that extreme heat in most of the cases has got a climate change signature, whether they happen during the season or at the edge of the season,” he told Al Arabiya English. “The increasing temperature trends and extreme temperatures, during the day and nights, are the features that are found around the world, including the Middle East.”
There is about a 40 percent chance of the annual average global temperature shifting to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level within the next five years. These odds are increasing with time, according to a recent climate report by the WMO.
There is a 90 percent chance that sometime during the period 2021-2025 the temperature will become the warmest on record.
WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said: “These are more than just statistics. Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment and sustainable development.”
“We are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It is yet another wakeup call that the world needs to fast-track commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.”
“Technological advances now make it possible to track greenhouse gas emissions back to their sources as a means of precisely targeting reduction efforts.”
It also highlights the need for climate adaptation, he added.
“Only half of 193 WMO Members have state-of-the-art early warning services. Countries should continue to develop the services that will be needed to support adaptation in climate-sensitive sectors – such as health, water, agriculture and renewable energy – and promote early warning systems that reduce the adverse impacts of extreme events.”
In the coming five years, the annual mean global temperature is likely to be at least 1°C warmer - within the range 0.9°C – 1.8°C - than preindustrial levels.
The Paris Agreement seeks to keep global temperature rise this century below 2°C. National commitments to cut emissions currently fall far short of what is needed to achieve this target.
The year 2021, and the crucial climate change negotiations, COP26, in November, have been widely described as a “make-or-break” chance to prevent climate change spiraling out of control.
Another new study this week found that heatwaves are causing the deaths of thousands of people worldwide every year.
More than 70 scientists conducted the largest study to date that considered the health risks of rising heat exposure.
The study analyzed data of death rates and temperatures in 732 areas in 43 countries over the past 28 years, and used computer models to work out the proportion of heat-related deaths that were due to the impact of Carbon emissions.
Antonio Gasparrini, professor of biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a senior author of the study, said that while only a small proportion of those that died would have had heatstroke mentioned on their death certificate, higher temperatures increased the risk of people succumbing to heart and lung diseases and other illnesses.
In the UAE, local health experts have also warned about heat-related deaths and illnesses such as heat stroke as temperatures soar.
Heatstroke is a type of severe heat illness that results in a body temperature greater than 40°C. Other symptoms include red skin, headache, dizziness and heatstroke. The start of heatstroke can be sudden or gradual.
Dr Igbal Mubarak Sirag, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital in MBZ City, told Al Arabiya English: “High temperature is associated with exertional heat illnesses, which is one of the causes of deaths worldwide. It is especially a risk when working or performing intense workouts in very hot climate.”
Susceptible groups are athletes, construction workers, firefighters and soldiers, he said.
“These vulnerable groups should be protected from the risk of heat stroke by educating them about the methods through which the human body regulates heat and diseases related to heat.
“It is also important to educate them about prevention methods from heat-related disease, in addition to treatment and prevention in case heat-related complications do occur.
“Some of the risk factors that predispose to exertional heat illnesses include lack of physical fitness and acclimatization, obesity, alcohol consumption and dehydration, some medication and dysfunctional sweat glands.”