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The Media Line: Middle East Faces Grave Environmental Challenges as World Marks Environment Day

Middle East Faces Grave Environmental Challenges as World Marks Environment Day

Experts highlight depletion of existing water resources, reduction in rainfall, pollution, rising sea levels, and changein ecosystems as some of the gravely worrisome issues the region faces

By Debbie Mohnblatt/The Media Line

As World Environment Day was marked around the globe onMonday, a spotlight has been turned on the Middle East, wherethe environment is facing grave issues that are expected to resultin harsh consequences in the coming years.

Salman Zafar, founder of the EcoMENA initiative, a platformthat aims to raise environmental awareness in the Middle Eastand North Africa, listed some of the regions most crucialenvironmental issues.

The Middle East is facing a host of environmental challenges,including water scarcity, air pollution, waste management, andclimate change, all of which require serious interventions fromthe government and scientific research community,Zafar toldThe Media Line.

He stressed that the fast depletion of existing water resources isthe most worrying of all, saying,Desertification is making acomeback in many parts of the Middle East, with fertile landsturned into barren landscapes.

Yoni Sappir, chairman of Israel Home Guardians, a movementthat aims to transition Israel to renewable energy sources andreduce emissions, told The Media Line the climate crisis is alsoexpected to cause a refugee crisis in the Middle East. He said ithad been predicted that by the middle of the 21st century, therewould be hundreds of millions of climate migrants from Africaand the Middle East who would most likely seek refuge in Israelor Europe.

Sappir said that rising sea levels are an issue that should concernMiddle Eastern countries, especially those on the Mediterraneancoast.

The sea level may rise by more than a meter by the year 2100,affecting a third of the population of the Mediterranean basin,he said, adding that of the 20 cities around the world expected tobe especially affected by rising sea levels, half lie in theMediterranean basin.

Rising sea levels will cause the disappearance of beaches andwill harm cliffs, desalination facilities, and drainageinfrastructure, and may put security facilities at risk too, he said.

Sappir said that another important issue is a severe decrease inprecipitation levels in recent decades. In the coming years, thereduction in rainfall is expected to intensify, until in the next fewdecades only a quarter of the current average annual amount ofrain will fall. In addition,the climate crisis increases thelikelihood of powerful rain events in a short time, creatingfloods,he said.

Global warming is causing huge changes in ecosystems, heavily affecting animal life, Sappir warned. He said that over 700 invasive species of animals have been recorded as arriving in the Mediterranean region due to global warming while increasing acidity in seawater has caused the mass deaths of marine animals. In addition to excessive fishing practices, these factors are expected to result in a decline in the fish population, leading to a scarcity of essential marine resources, he said, adding that 90% of commercial fishing sites are already suffering from overfishing.

The average maximum body weight of fish is expected toshrink by half by the year 2050,Sappir said.

Zafar noted that MENA region countries areslowly butsteadily gearing up to mitigate environmental degradation.

He said that most Middle Eastern nations had ratified the UnitedNations Convention to Combat Desertification and that manycountries are “revising earlier plans or preparing new nationalstrategies, action plans, and integrated financing strategies tocombat desertification.”

But he said that there is a need for swift implementation of long-term integrated strategies for improving land productivitycoupled with rehabilitation, conservation, and sustainablemanagement of land and water resources.

He said the recent COP climate summits in Egypt and Tunisia,and the upcoming COP summit in the United Arab Emirates,would not only raise environmental action in the region butwould also compel Middle Eastern nations to take concrete,long-term actions to improve the environmental situation.

Several key projects aimed at mitigating environmental damage in the region were highlighted by Sappir. These include the construction of subsea cable interconnectors for electrical power transfer between Morocco and Spain, with another link to the UK underway.

He brought attention to the agreement between Israel and Jordan, brokered by the UAE. Initially signed in 2021 and ratified the following year, the agreement entails Jordan supplying solar energy to Israel in exchange for desalinated water.

Sappir also said that huge solar fields in Saudi Arabia, Egypt,Jordan, and other countries are enlarging the production of clean energy. He also said that several Middle Eastern nations, among them Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, the UAE,and Jordan, have signed the global methane pledge to reduce 30% of their emissions by 2030.


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