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Where Will We Fight Our Next War? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The snowy landscape across Europe may be pleasant or enjoyable for some; however this snow brings with it some unpleasant news, not just for Europe but the entire world. This is not just related to the problems caused by the snow, which includes the closure of a number of airports, the cancellation of thousands of flights, and the hampering of train and car journeys. For whilst it is true that these problems have economic and humanitarian consequences, this is nothing when compared to the disasters that scientists expect these environmental changes to cause. This is no longer a prediction for a distant future, but something whose effects we can see today.

Will we manage to avoid these expected crises?

Of course not! In fact, this is something that may affect us more than some people imagine. Reports published recently have indicated that the Arab world will be among the regions most affected by environmental and climatic changes, and that [Arab] governments need to start preparing today to cope with the expected impact of this, whether this is manifested by severe heat-waves, sudden floods, or more storms. A number of Arab countries have experienced heat-waves and drought in the recent period, as well as unseasonal heavy rain and floods, which has resulted in significant damage and loss of life.

Scientists are warning that the Arab world – which already suffers from water shortages – will face even warmer and drier weather in the coming years. This means that water will be a major problem, to the extent that this may form the nucleus of regional wars, or may result in internal disorder in some countries, particularly if there are food and water shortages. The Arab Forum for Environment and Development [AFED] has indicated that Arab water resources have declined by a quarter compared to levels in 1960, and the increased temperatures caused by global warming will only exacerbate the problem in the Arab world.

In order to ensure that nobody takes this report lightly simply because it was published by an Arab organization, experts on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] have also confirmed that temperatures in the Arab region are set to rise over the next two decades. Experts believe that this will have significant environmental consequences, from drought to water and food shortages. To further clarify the picture, international studies prepared by specialists report that increasing temperatures over land will also increase the rate of water evaporation, both inland and offshore, which will lead to droughts in areas where there is not enough rainfall to offset the amount of evaporated water. What makes matters worse is that experts have observed that a number of regions around the world have begun to suffer from drought, and this is something that is often followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall, which leads to flash flooding and the destruction of crops. We must not forget the crisis that occurred when global wheat prices rose by more than 50 percent in mid-2010 after crops were destroyed as a result of heat-waves and drought in Russia, heavy rainfall in Canada, floods in India, and swarms of locusts attacking crops in Australia. This is only a sample of the crises and problems that scientists are warning of, as a result of environmental and climatic changes around the world.

Rising temperatures may also lead to a disaster of another kind. Global warming is resulting in rising sea levels, according to scientists who have begun to monitor the melting ice caps, especially in the Antarctic, where there is a large hole in the Ozone layer as a result of environmental pollution. If this correlation is correct, then climate change will lead to the submergence of many coastal cities around the world, including Arab and Islamic cities, particularly those in low-lying areas that are not significantly above sea level.

The tragic irony here is that the Arab world, which is only responsible for a small proportion of greenhouse gases, will be among the areas most affected by environmental disasters caused by climate change. However, there is no justice as far as this issue is concerned, as is the case in many aspects of the relationship between the rich, industrialized North, and the predominantly poor, developing South. In any case, there is no use crying over spilt milk! Arab countries must quickly grasp the size of the forthcoming danger, and initiate plans and programs to cope with the expected consequences. Perhaps the most important step required in this regard is related to water, the region’s lifeblood. Plans may include utilizing our water resources in a rational manner, or searching for alternatives sources of water, such as expanding desalination projects in coastal countries, or developing agricultural methods that require less water, such as the agricultural methods used in the desert.

There has also been much talk about the importance of food security, and this is an issue that is becoming increasingly important considering population growth rates, which will translate into a 300 percent rise in the population of the Arab world by the year 2050. Such security will only be achieved if Arab states begin to work in earnest from today to face the repercussions of climate change. Perhaps the notion of collective cooperation, which is absent from many issues in our region, will materialize on this fateful issue, especially as there are many fields for cooperation, ranging from the electricity grid to agricultural investment, yet politics often impedes the economy in the Arab world.

Experts warn that procrastination and delay in addressing the environmental and climatic problems is no longer a viable option. Will we wake up to this threat before it’s too late?

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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