According to every reputable climate science organization, the planet is in the midst of radical climate change that will permanently affect the way all human beings live in and interact with the Earth.
While the effects of climate change will harm all geographical locales, there are few regions as vulnerable to the most extreme consequences than Middle East and North African (MENA) countries. The issue of climate change is urgent, and the repercussions of acting slowly are not only a warmer planet, but an enormous loss of habitable land which will inevitably lead to mass emigration and a slew of humanitarian crises.
Climate Change and Humanitarian Crises
By the end of the century, surface temperatures on earth are expected to rise at least 2°C
above the pre-industrial average. There effects this temperature rise will have on all biological life are too numerous to list, but severe natural disasters and droughts will become more common – two outcomes which will devastate the already drought-prone countries in the MENA diaspora.
World Bank’s comprehensive climate study “Adaption to Climate Change in the Middle East and North Africa Region” predicts dire consequences: “In urban areas in North Africa, a temperature increase of 1-3 degrees could expose 6–25 million people to coastal flooding. In addition, heat waves, an increased “heat island effect,” water scarcity, decreasing water quality, worsening air quality, and ground ozone formation are likely to affect public health, and more generally lead to challenging living conditions.”
MENA countries which already receive minimal rainfall are also expected to receive even less, potentially leading to food scarcity as many crops will be unable to grow; paired with a rapidly increasing population in the MENA region, food production during climate-change induced droughts will not be able to meet demand.
Unable to produce enough food, the agricultural industries and the livelihoods of the people who work in the agriculture sector in MENA countries will take a hit, thereby threatening a critical component of their economic output.
Climate-Change Linked Violence
Several humanitarian crises linked to climate change have already occurred in the MENA
diaspora. In Syria, between 2006-2010, some rural parts of the country saw massive decreases in rainfall amounts, which ultimately resulted in the death of 85% of Syrian livestock and displaced some 800,000 rural citizens. Many citizens moved from their rural farms into larger metropolitan cities, a large portion of which were already overpopulated. This, combined with an economy in shambles and an incompetent government, ultimately led to extreme political unrest which continues unabated.
Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s regime’s refusal to address this devastation has led to some citizens who lost their livelihoods due to the drought to radicalize, no doubt further destabilizing a country already in the grips of seven year civil war. Terrorist organizations like ISIS also capitalize on the devastation wrought by climate change to attract new members.
National Geographic documented this issue in interviews with citizens from several agricultural villages in Iraq, many of which were successfully taken by ISIS via their recruitment tactics that were created to entice impoverished farmers who had their lives and incomes devastated by a series of natural disasters, such as drought and harsh winds.
These ISIS recruiters would even offer money, food, and other riches to rural Iraqis to allure them into joining the ranks of the jihadist group. With no means to sustain themselves through agricultural means, many farmers and other rural Iraqis accepted ISIS’s bribes for both monetary and morale support.
As the National Geographic article suggests, by linking the devastation wrought by Syria’s drought to the incompetence of the government, ISIS was able to convince rural Iraqis that their fight was not with climate change, but with an ineffective government deserving of overthrow.
Thus, the havoc climate change wreaks onto nature affects the both the political and economic stability of a country. Failure to address and combat such issues led Syria into one of the largest crises of the 21st century. Many countries are susceptible to the same wide-spread devastation if they, too, refuse to confront climate change.
Mass Emigration and Crises of Economy
Perhaps the most disastrous effects of climate change will be the enormous displacement of human life from MENA states, many of which already experience dangerous heat waves. These countries, which already see little rainfall, temperatures that soar over 125°F, and heat indexes that climb up to 164°F, could begin to regularly experience heat indexes over the next 100 years that rise over 165°F – temperatures that are lethal to humans.
As temperatures continue to increase globally, and with no real end in sight for their rise, those living in MENA countries are likely to flee for cooler climates. Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, CEO of American Security Project, emphasized the urgent threat climate change poses to human life and unsustainable emigration, saying “Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing the migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal.”
Cheney acknowledges that climate change poses a threat not only to the security of the nations most affected, but also to the countries to which the residents of those nations will flee, stating “the national security impacts will be increasingly costly and challenging.” Political instability will be a given, as evident with the Syrian humanitarian crisis. More governments will be unable to cope with the economic and human costs associated with climate change, and their existing infrastructure will likely be severely strained.
Will mass emigration from MENA countries due to climate change lead to increased hostility between the U.S. and the Middle East?
The political ramifications that would accompany mass emigration from the MENA to wealthy Western countries with relatively cool climates, like the United States, would likewise be numerous. Given the virtual nonexistence of mutually respectful, close diplomatic ties between the U.S. and the Middle East, the ease with which MENA residents would be able to immigrate into America is nil.
President Trump’s travel ban already makes clear that Middle Eastern travelers and immigrants are unwelcome in the United States under normal circumstances. In the event of a mass exodus of people from the Middle East due to climate crisis, protectionist and nationalist rhetoric is only likely to increase. The U.S. Government’s refusal to properly address climate change, or even acknowledge its existence, likewise only makes gauging the potential reaction more difficult.
The racialization of Muslims and the typifying of Muslim immigrants as innately anti American and therefore unwilling to “assimilate” into American culture is also a recurring theme in the current administration and in Congress. Again, this is evident in Trump’s travel ban, which restricts the entry of citizens of six Muslim-majority countries.
Employing the farcical but popular claim that the ban was created out of “national security concerns” and the need for “extreme vetting,” the Trump administration has made it clear that they do not value the lives of Muslims and believe them to be enemies, rather than human beings.
Whether this type of resentment will continue is unpredictable, but given that racism driven by an increase in Muslim refugees coming to the U.S. was and still is a massive part of Trump’s political platform, as is climate change denial, it is unlikely his administration will be accepting of those displaced by climate crises and devastation.
Ultimately, countries in the MENA diaspora are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Alterations in weather patterns that will directly affect the people living there will not only lead to political instability and economic collapse, but could very well lead to loss of life and the dissolution of entire countries. It is critical, then, not to understate the destruction that climate change will bring. Otherwise, when the inevitable happens, all people and countries will be completely unprepared; and the consequences of our unpreparedness will be catastrophic on all levels.
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