Temperatures across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have soared to such scorching temperatures that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued a warning to the public. While the region is historically known for its intense summer heat, current heat waves are extreme even for those used to the desert climate, with the heat index topping 150 degrees fahrenheit – nearing the limit for human survival – in many locations. “These are not your normal weather systems of the past. You have to do climate repair to change it,” WMO’s senior extreme heat adviser John Nairn was quoted by Al Jazeera. Numerous countries including Algeria, Tunisia, and Jordan have broken previous records for high temperatures, and wildfires are raging across the region.
As a result of the extreme heat wave, many of these countries – even the most energy-rich ones – are struggling to meet energy needs in the face of soaring demand, unprepared regulators, and vulnerable power grids. Egypt, Iran and Iraq have raced rolling blackouts and grid collapses as temperatures reach hazardous heights. Iran recently announced a two-day shutdown to encourage residents to stay home and shield themselves from the heatwave. Meanwhile in Baghdad, the energy insecurity has prompted civil unrest. Political instability in the face of energy shortages is a familiar phenomenon in the MENA region. Issues plaguing oil and gas supplies in Egypt were integral to the ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
And now it seems that Egypt is once again in hot water when it comes to natural gas supplies. While the government denies that the country is running out of natural gas, experts say that supplies are in fact dwindling. “It’s very likely that Egypt has a shortage in gas,” Timothy Kaldas, deputy director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit, told the Wall Street Journal. “Production is down and there are no exports at a time when they’re desperate to export.” Indeed, credit-ratings firm BMI projects that Egyptian gas output will fall to a three-year low of 64.9 billion cubic meters this year.
On the whole, the Middle East is unprepared for the waves of extreme heat that will continue to intensify as the climate changes. A recent study found that, by 2050, the majority of people living in the Middle East will be exposed to extreme heat. The cost in human lives will be considerable, and other impacts on human health will likely lay a heavy burden on the sweltering region. Another recent study published in the Lancet found that the number of deaths from heat-related causes in the MENA region is projected to rise from the current rate of about two such deaths per 100,000 people per year to about 123 per 100,000 people by the end of this century. This means that in Iraq alone, 138,000 people would likely die of heat-related causes every year by 2100.
In addition to wreaking havoc on the human body, extreme heat has other devastating effects on countries’ overall wellbeing. Heat poses an extreme environmental threat – as we’re currently seeing from the widespread wildfires in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world during this summer’s global heatwave – as well as a severe economic threat. “We’ve known for a very long time that human beings are very sensitive to temperature, and that their performance declines dramatically when exposed to heat, but what we haven’t known until very recently is whether and how those lab responses meaningfully extrapolate to the real-world economy,” R. Jisung Park, environmental and labor economist at the University of Pennsylvania, recently told the New York Times. “And what we are learning is that hotter temperatures appear to muck up the gears of the economy in many more ways than we would have expected.”
Recent studies have found that temperatures above 90 degrees fahrenheit are associated with a sharp drop-off in productivity, which can cost nations billions of dollars per year. By 2050, the U.S. economy alone is projected to lose $500 billion annually due to heat exposure. Poorer countries, such as many of those in the Middle East and Northern Africa, will likely suffer even greater economic losses, and with less capacity for resilience.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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