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

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Salman Zafar, founder of the EcoMENA initiative, a platform that aims to raise environmental awareness in the Middle East and North Africa, listed some of the region’s most crucial environmental issues.

“The Middle East is facing a host of environmental challenges, including water scarcity, air pollution, waste management, and climate change, all of which require serious interventions from the government and scientific research community,” Zafar told The Media Line.

He stressed that the fast depletion of existing water resources is the most worrying of all, saying, “Desertification is making a comeback in many parts of the Middle East, with fertile lands turned into barren landscapes.”

Climate crisis expected to cause a refugee crisis in Middle East

 Interrelated crises with reciprocal feedback: Pollution, Climate change and Activity that Impairs Biodiversity (credit: studiovin/Shutterstock) Interrelated crises with reciprocal feedback: Pollution, Climate change and Activity that Impairs Biodiversity (credit: studiovin/Shutterstock)

Yoni Sappir, chairman of Israel Home Guardians, a movement that aims to transition Israel to renewable energy sources and reduce emissions, told The Media Line the climate crisis is also expected to cause a refugee crisis in the Middle East. He said it had been predicted that by the middle of the 21st century, there would be hundreds of millions of climate migrants from Africa and the Middle East who would most likely seek refuge in Israel or Europe.

Sappir said that rising sea levels are an issue that should concern Middle Eastern countries, especially those on the Mediterranean coast.

“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 to be especially affected by rising sea levels, half lie in the Mediterranean basin.

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

Sappir said that another important issue is a severe decrease in precipitation levels in recent decades. In the coming years, the reduction in rainfall is expected to intensify, until in the next few decades only a quarter of the current average annual amount of rain will fall. In addition, “the climate crisis increases the likelihood of powerful rain events in a short time, creating floods,” 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 to shrink by half by the year 2050,” Sappir said.

Zafar noted that MENA region countries are “slowly but steadily gearing up to mitigate environmental degradation.”

He said that most Middle Eastern nations had ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and that many countries are “revising earlier plans or preparing new national strategies, action plans, and integrated financing strategies to combat desertification.”

But he said that there is a need for swift implementation of long-term integrated strategies for improving land productivity coupled with rehabilitation, conservation, and sustainable management 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 but would 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.