Iran is expected to have the highest annual death rate from the heat in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by the end of this century, according to researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Smaller Gulf states, like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, will see the greatest relative increases in heat-related deaths, according to the researchers.
Under high-emissions scenarios, approximately 123 people per 100,000 in MENA are predicted to die annually from heat-related causes – nearly 60 times greater than current figures and much higher than predictions under similar scenarios worldwide.
However, if global warming is instead limited to 2° C, over 80% of these deaths could be avoided, the researchers claimed, highlighting the urgent need for better adaptation policies and a switch to renewable technologies.
The findings come as the world prepares for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai in November.
The findings were just published in The Lancet Planetary Health Journal under the title “Current and future trends in heat-related mortality in the MENA region: a health impact assessment with bias-adjusted statistically downscaled data and Bayesian inference.”
The lead author was global environmental health Prof. Shakoor Hajat at the London School.
How dangerous will rising temperatures be in the Middle East?
Despite MENA’s vulnerability, the impact of heat stress remains under-explored, they wrote. Under high emissions scenarios – defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP) 5-8.5 – most of the MENA region will experience substantial levels of warming by the 2060s.
THEY LOOKED at current (2001 to 2020) and future (2021 to 2100) trends in heat-related mortality in 19 countries in the MENA region.
Under SSP5-8.5, annual heat-related deaths will rise from approximately two per 100,000 now to 123 per 100,000 by the period between 2081 and 2100. Although current heat-related deaths in MENA are relatively low compared to other regions (two per 100,000 compared to 17 per 100,000 in Western Europe or 10 per 100,000 in Australasia, for example), this rise is expected to be much higher than other regions of the world under similar climate change scenarios.
Other MENA countries and territories such as Iraq (169 per 100,000), as well as Israel (163 per 100,000) and the Palestinian Authority (186 per 100,000) are also predicted to have high rates.
For the region, if global warming can be limited to two degrees as defined by SSP1-2.6, the team estimated that over 80% of the total 123 annual predicted heat-related deaths per 100,000 people could be avoided.
With COP28 on the horizon, the authors concluded that there is an even greater urgency for stronger mitigation and adaptation policies, both at the conference and beyond, if MENA is to avoid the worst possible impacts of future warming.
Reliance on traditional heat-adaption solutions will not be enough, they warned, “as population growth will be a substantial driver of predicted heat-related deaths, demographic policies and healthy aging will also be vital if MENA is to successfully adapt to a changing climate. Global warming will need to be limited to two degrees to avoid the catastrophic health impacts estimated in our study.”
Strengthening health systems and better coordination between MENA countries will be key in tackling the health impacts of climate change in the region.
“With COP28 coming up, discussions are needed to consider how countries in the region can better work together to improve resilience in the face of climate change,” Hajat concluded.