Water Shortages Loom for Middle East

Middle East faces water crisis

Last summer, temperatures in the Middle East hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), nearly 7 degrees Celsius above average. And the region's future is trending toward extreme heat, according to a recent comprehensive paper that projects average temperatures will be as much as 2.7 degrees warmer by midcentury. In a primarily desert climate like that of the Middle East's -- increasing heat also means worsening drought.

BBC: The Middle East's Skyrocketing Temperatures | Life at 50°C, November 19, 2021.

Why This Matters

The Middle East is already the hottest and driest region on earth, and dialing up both factors up could make certain areas impossible for people to live in. Extreme heat can be fatal -- it's the deadliest natural disaster in the US -- and humidity from the nearby seas is expected to make heat stress worse. Water shortages coupled with heat could hinder the growing of food and raising of livestock. Given that agriculture provides the most jobs in the Middle East and North Africa, this could cause a huge migration of people.

Strait Talk: Middle East Suffers Through Worst Drought in Decades, December 14, 2021.

Connection to Geopolitics

We’ve already seen the ways that climate change -- specifically drought -- can impact global politics. As John Kerry wrote for Front Lines in 2020: "It is not a coincidence that immediately prior to the civil war in Syria (from 2006-2011), the country experienced the worst drought on record." Without water, it was impossible for people in agriculture to earn a living and forced as many as 1.5 million Syrians to leave their rural homes for cities. The country’s civil war began, in part, with the Assad regime's brutal reaction to Syrians impacted by drought.

The Middle East's climate future means other similar scenarios could play out, according to the report authors.

"Less snow will fall in some regions of Morocco or Iraq," Florence Gaub, one of the study's co-authors, told DW. "This will affect the small farmers who use the snow for agriculture."

National Geographic: Global Water Wars (Full Episode) | Parched, July 29, 2021.