Thought your average Aussie summer was rough? In that case take a look at the Middle East. People there is currently facing one of its most extreme heat waves ever, with experts warning temperatures are getting almost too hot for human survival.
Climate scientists say it’s evidence that the planet needs to cut down on its greenhouse gas emissions, especially given heatwaves can be fatal.
HOW HOT IS THE MIDDLE EAST RIGHT NOW?
Over the past month, temperatures in Kuwait and Iraq have soared to 54 degrees, while Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, has seen temperatures of 43C and higher nearly every day for almost two straight months.
Meanwhile, parts of the United Arab Emirates and Iran were dealt a historic heat index of 60C.
Zainab Guman, a 26-year-old university student from Basra, told The Washington Post it felt like “walking into a fire” when she left the house.
“It’s like everything on your body your skin, your eyes, your nose starts to burn,” she said.
For the past couple of months, she’s barely left home. The heat in many parts of the Middle East is seriously out of control right now.
A study by climate scientists released last year predicted that extreme heatwaves could push the Gulf in the Middle East beyond human endurance if nothing was done about climate change.
It predicted that extreme heatwaves more intense than anything the planet has ever felt will kick in just after 2070, and our most scorching days of today would be near-daily by that stage.
Professor Elfatih Eltahir, one of the study’s co-authors, said this was evidence that the planet needs to cut down on greenhouse gas 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,” he said.
“They have a vital interest in supporting measures that would help reduce the concentration of CO2 in the future.”
According to a UN report, the combined population of 22 Arab countries is expected to grow from 400 million to about 600 million by 2050. By that time, the world’s overall population is expected to reach 9.7 billion. Yeah! Right..We are definitely going in the right direction.
ARE HEATWAVES REALLY A BIG DEAL?
In short, yes. Heatwaves can prove fatal on a mass level. While wealthier families can afford air-conditioning and swimming pools, it’s typically poor people and farmers in rural areas who suffer the most.
Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a research fellow at UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, told news.com.au that many people don’t seem to realise that heatwaves have killed more people than any other natural disaster, so much so that it’s been dubbed the “silent killer”.
She said that, while the Middle East is no stranger to heatwaves historically, the key fact here is that they’re getting increasingly more frequent.
People without air-conditioning are suffering the most.
She warned this would largely impact the lower class people who worked in outdoor jobs and didn’t necessarily have access to air-conditioning.
“People in the Middle East are used to the heat,” she said. “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.”
Earlier this year, temperatures in parts of India soared to 51C, the highest in the country’s recorded history. The impact of the heat was devastating, and increasingly deadly, particularly for the hundreds of people dying of starvation due to withering crops in their remote fields.
In India, earlier this year, the impact of the heat drove many debt-ridden farmers to suicide. According to local media reports, suicide among farmers in rural areas spiked during this period, due to crippling debt and poverty over poor yields.
Pakistan had a similar crisis midway through last year, when temperatures of up to 45 C struck various provinces in the country. A Pakistani health official said the death toll from the heatwave alone hit roughly 700.
So far, authorities are yet to report any heat-related deaths in Iraq. However, the statistics are complicated by the fact that doctors here don’t usually list heat as an official cause of death.
It’s not just the death toll that’s a concern. Heatwaves can have a significant impact on a country’s overall ability to function.
An Iraqi economist said the country’s gross domestic product had contracted between 10 and 20 per cent during the heatwave.
“There’s a similar relationship between heat and a country’s economy in Australia,” said Dr Kirkpatrick.
“Public transport slows down, the air-con breaks, people get to work late or don’t go at all. For farmers, crops fail. Agriculture gets damaged, which affects everything. Everybody loses their ability to concentrate.”
The situation is especially dire for people who don’t have access to air-conditioning or swimming pools.
She also warned that over time, this could eventually lead to a mass migration, which would hold implications for the rest of the world. She compared this to villages in Fiji, where residents have been forced to relocate uphill because their homes were threatened by rising sea levels, as well as the country of Kiribati, which may be completely immersed in water in just decades.
So, what’s the government to do? Dr Kirkpatrick said, quite simply, that while governments can help people be more adaptive to changing weather patterns in the short-term, the only real solution was taking effort to reduce carbon emissions.
The weather is changing so fast that the new extremes being felt around the world might actually threaten human civilisation itself. Welcome to the new terrifying world of global warming.