Home News The wealthy Gulf states have big ambitions. Will extreme heat hold them...

The wealthy Gulf states have big ambitions. Will extreme heat hold them back?


The Persian Gulf’s wealthy oil states have big plans for the future, hoping to attract growing numbers of tourists and investors, host major sporting events, build new cities and diversify their economies away from oil.

But they face a looming threat that they can’t easily buy their way out of: the extreme, sometimes deadly, heat that scorches their country every summer, with climate change expected to worsen in the coming decades.

The scorching heat, which increases energy demand, wears out infrastructure, threatens workers and makes even simple outdoor activities unpleasant and potentially dangerous, will weigh heavily on the Gulf states’ ambitions in the long term, experts say.

“We keep thinking about building bigger and bigger without considering the impacts of future climate change,” said Aisha Al-Sarihi, an Oman researcher at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore. “If we keep expanding, it means we need more energy, more water and more electricity, especially for cooling. But there are limits, and we are seeing those limits today.”

This week, Saudi Arabia announced that the threat of extreme heat has become more apparent. More than 1,300 people died During the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, At least 11 AmericansSaudi officials said most of the victims did not have heat permits, leaving them vulnerable to the heat, which at times exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

The deaths raised questions about Saudi Arabia’s ability to manage the event, which draws more than 1.8 million Muslims to the holy city of Mecca.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are investing vast swathes of their oil wealth in an effort to boost their economies and become popular global tourist destinations.

Saudi Arabia is building Ultra high-end resort Qatar, on the Red Sea coast, and a futuristic city called Neom in the northwestern desert. Qatar hosted the men’s soccer World Cup last year and has hosted other international sporting events and trade shows. The United Arab Emirates has a massive World Expo, and its business-friendly policies have made it a playground for the super-rich.

But these countries face severe environmental challenges.

Summers are hot in all countries, but scientists say climate change is already making them longer and hotter, a trend expected to accelerate in the coming decades. Some predictions The warnings say that heat waves lasting weeks in the second half of this century could reach as high as 132 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures that high could endanger human life.

The Gulf states, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, are among the most water-stressed in the world, meaning available water barely meets demand. This requires them to import water or remove salt from seawater, a costly and energy-intensive process.

Many Gulf states have announced sweeping environmental initiatives aimed at slashing carbon emissions, greening their megacities and developing climate-friendly technologies. They have also invested heavily in efforts to mitigate the damage from extreme heat — measures that other Middle Eastern countries dealing with heat, such as Egypt, Yemen and Iraq, cannot afford.

But money isn’t always enough.

This month, parts of oil-exporting Kuwait suddenly lost power, causing temperatures to soar to 125 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, shutting down traffic lights and trapping people in elevators.

Authorities blame growing energy demand, which has overwhelmed power stations. To ease the load, the government has introduced Implementing rolling blackouts During the hottest hours of the day, people are forced to seek out alternative air-conditioned spaces.

High summer temperatures severely restrict the lives of Kuwaitis, changing people’s work and sleep schedules and forcing those who can to stay in air-conditioned environments.

Fatima Al Sarraf, a family physician in Kuwait City, said she goes for long runs in the winter but is forced to run on a treadmill indoors or go to the mall in the summer to reach her daily step count.

“I don’t go out at all,” said Dr. Saraf, 27.

She is full of worries about the future.

“If temperatures continue to rise, especially in the summer, it is expected that Kuwait will no longer be habitable,” she said. “Such changes will definitely affect future generations.”

Other countries appear to be doing better in coping with the heat, though they still face challenges.

Qatar has used the wealth created by its position as one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas to cool outdoor areas even during the hottest hours of the day. The stadiums it is building for the 2023 World Cup are equipped with outdoor air conditioning so they can be used year-round. An urban park in the capital, Doha, has Air-conditioned runwayand Outdoor cooling system It was recently unveiled at a popular open-air market.

“There is a cooling ecosystem here,” said Neeshad Shafi, a Qatar-based nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute. “Everything needs to be cooled — every day there are more cool parks, more cool gardens, more cool shopping areas, more cool souks.”

But these technologies are expensive — and even more expensive to deploy over large areas.

“You can’t cool down everything in a country,” Mr Shafie said.

The most vulnerable, including the millions of migrant workers in the Gulf region who work in construction, gardening and other jobs, often also lack access to the protection that such technology provides. Many people have no choice but to work outdoors, and studies have shown that working in extreme heat increases accident rates and can Damage to the body.

To protect outdoor workers, Qatar and other Gulf states ban most outdoor work during the hottest parts of the summer. This year, Kuwait extended those protections to motorcycle delivery drivers, who feel the heat while wearing helmets to work on muggy asphalt.

But nighttime temperatures have also been stifling, and the government may need to extend the work ban or take further steps as the country gets hotter.

“These countries are changing fast, but the temperature is changing even faster than that,” Mr Shafi said.

Rising temperatures could also hamper Saudi Arabia’s massive development plans. When it’s too hot to swim comfortably in the Red Sea, will tourists flock to new luxury resorts? Will enough people be willing to move to the capital, Riyadh, to The population doubledwhere daytime temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees for much of the year?

As temperatures in Saudi Arabia warm, ensuring the safety of the Hajj will become more difficult.

The Hajj and its associated rituals require spending a lot of time outdoors and traveling long distances. Because the timing of the Hajj is based on the lunar calendar, it moves backwards throughout the year and cannot be rescheduled.

The Saudi government has invested billions of dollars to protect pilgrims, providing elaborate umbrellas, misting fans and air-conditioned shelters to provide relief from the summer heat.

But scientists warn that temperatures will be even higher during the next summer pilgrimage, starting in the mid-2040s. A recent study It warned that unless “aggressive adaptation measures” were taken, future pilgrims would face temperatures exceeding “extreme danger thresholds”.

Tariq Al-Olaimy, managing director of 3BL Associates, a Bahrain-based sustainability consultancy, said he believed this year’s Hajj deaths “are a wake-up call” because they demonstrate both the success of heatstroke prevention measures and the risks faced by those who do not.

“The lesson from the Hajj is that if it is not a national imperative, it has deadly consequences,” he said. “But the lesson is also that when there is proper and adequate heatwave management, we cannot thrive, but we can survive.”

Yasmena Amurra Reporting was contributed by Kuwait City, Kuwait.

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