In the midst of unprecedented global temperatures and dire predictions that the world is facing an imminent “global boiling” point, a strong and urgent message has been conveyed regarding the profound consequences of heatwaves in the Middle East. This region, which is already grappling with socio-political turmoil and instability, is now facing an additional layer of challenges due to extreme heat events.
Imene Trabelsi, the regional spokesperson for International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Near and Middle East, told Al Arabiya English that as the relentless grip of summer tightens and the world witnesses some of the most severe heatwaves ever recorded, the phenomenon is significantly felt in countries plagued by ongoing conflicts.
“Globally, out of the 25 states deemed most vulnerable to climate change, 14 are mired in conflict,” she said. “Climate change consequences, namely heatwaves, amplify the humanitarian needs triggered by conflicts. At the same time, conflict damages or destroys infrastructure and compromises access to essential services.”
A telling illustration of this crisis is found in the Syrian refugee camps, where the convergence of conflict and heatwaves is acutely felt.
ICRC worker Jamale Abu Hamad recounts her visit to a Syrian Refugee Camp in Lebanon’s Arsaal region. She paints a bleak picture of refugees enduring temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius. In these dire conditions, residents must prioritize their meager water supply, which falls significantly below the recommended daily emergency quota of 30 liters per person.
“Refugee settlements are particularly vulnerable during summer,” she said, adding that she had visited the camp earlier this month. “It was 2pm when we arrived at one of the refugee camps in Arsaal, with the temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.”
Sharing her experience, Abu Hamad said the camp alleys were almost deserted as it was too hot to step out. The only crowded spot was the water distribution point, she said, where children, men and women gathered to fill bottles and jerrycans with whatever little water was left in the containers.
Mohammed, a camp inhabitant, was part of that motley crowd. He confirmed that during summer, he needed at least 15 liters of water daily, just for drinking purposes, for himself and his family. “This is the worst summer since we arrived at this camp in 2014. We never saw such a heat,” Abu Hamad said.
According to a UNDP estimate, by 2040, temperatures In Lebanon will increase by around 1°C on the coast to 2°C in the mainland.
Surviving the sweltering heat takes on a grim calculus for these displaced families. Mothers are forced to decide whether to allocate precious water for drinking, cooking, cleaning or just leave the family agonizingly short of this precious resource. Insufficient water and the consumption of contaminated water breed new health challenges, a point tragically underscored by the spread of cholera in these camps earlier this year.
Abu Hamad said ICRC workers spoke to mothers who shared that they must think twice before using some of the water to give their children a shower daily.
A climate of inequality and struggle
Summertime is notably challenging for camp inhabitants with special needs.
Another camp resident, Ahmad Mohammed Abdelfattah, told Abu Hamad that he was injured during the unrest in Syria 10 years ago, which left the lower part of his body paralysed. Though he is a beneficiary of ICRC’s physical rehabilitation program, he has made only limited progress with the treatment as he requires sophisticated surgery that cannot be provided by the aid actors.
This July was declared the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, with average global temperatures reaching unprecedented heights.
This escalation of heat is particularly impacting countries such as Iran, a nation teetering on the precipice of climate vulnerability. With a population exceeding 85 million, Iran grapples with the dual challenges of climate change and surging global temperatures. The government, struggling to protect its citizens from the searing heat, declared a two-day holiday for government workers and banks, as temperatures soared beyond 40 degrees Celsius in many cities and nearly 50°C in some regions.
Egypt, another nation in the crosshairs of intensifying heatwaves, declared scheduled power cuts in response to the mounting strain on its electricity grid and natural gas supplies.
Trabelsi points to ICRC’s observations of unprecedented temperatures in cities like Aden in Yemen and Basra in Iraq, as well as the eruption of forest fires in Syria. These extreme weather conditions exacerbate the vulnerability of already distressed communities, who are grappling with both, the ravages of conflict and the merciless heat.
Extreme weather conditions are even more difficult to cope with for the most vulnerable communities, due to the ongoing or past conflicts, she said, she said, adding that an increase in temperatures “results in even more unfulfilled basic needs for millions.”