Less Productive Fertile Crescent Region Feels Climate Impacts

Less Productive Fertile Crescent Region Feels Climate Impacts

Even without rising temperatures from climate change, the Middle East, which is not all desert, is among the hottest regions in the world and the most threatened by the climate crisis. As a result, agriculture in the Fertile Crescent area between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea is feeling those impacts -- particularly in the Iraqi port city of Basra. Farmlands there are being harmed by increased temperatures and water salinity, as well as increased air pollution from an Iranian oil refinery just across the border. The city’s palm trees are being replaced by desert at an alarming rate, fundamentally changing the character of a region known for its palm trees since biblical times.

"It was not only an orchard but also a place to have rest and breathe fresh air, just like the Garden of Eden, but today it has become a cemetery of dead palm trees,” farmer Fouad Kadhim told Al Jazeera.

Bloomberg: ​​Extreme Heat in the Middle East, September 9, 2021.

Al Jazeera: Climate change mismanagement threatens Iraqi farms, July 3, 2021.

Middle East Eye: The impact of climate change on the MENA region, December 31, 2021.

Why This Matters

The challenges people living in Basra are facing are just the tip of the iceberg. The Middle East region is already home to 12 of the world’s 17 most water-stressed countries, with geopolitical implications over the increasingly scarce but essential resource. Rising temperatures and less predictable rainfall have already changed growing and planting seasons, destabilizing farming regions and forcing more people to move to cities.

As Ranj Alaaldin wrote for Brookings: To address the problem, governments must approach climate change as a public policy issue, a threat that is interconnected with a host of other challenges that combine to create a multiplier effect.”

Vox: Why Iraq's great rivers are dying, July 2, 2019.

BBC: Iraq's extreme heat and water shortages, October 24, 2021.

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

Looking To Egypt

This November, the United Nations COP27 climate meeting will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, putting the country and its climate response on center stage. Between the years 1960 and 2020, Egypt’s population almost tripled to a total of 100 million people, further straining its already stressed water supply. While climate change is bringing more rainfall to the southern part of the Nile region, it’s made for hotter and dryer years on average. The country gets 85% of its water from the Nile, and experts warn of a nationwide freshwater shortage by 2025 and rising tensions with Ethiopia over the resource.

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

Carnegie Endowment: The Middle East's Climate Change Wake-Up, February 27, 2022.

Arab Center Washington DC: The Impact of Climate Change and Environmental Injustice in the Middle East and North Africa, April 28, 2022.