A study published by the journal Nature Climate Change in October predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival toward the end of the century. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia recently predicted a similarly grim fate for the Middle East and North Africa, a vast area currently home to about a half-billion people.
The region’s governments are generally not prepared to deal with rapidly growing populations and climactic shifts, said Francesca de Châtel, an Amsterdam-based expert on Middle Eastern water issues. For years, she said, they have failed to address these problems adequately despite warnings from climate experts and U.N. agencies, and it may be too late now.
The United Nations predicts that the combined population of 22 Arab countries will grow from about 400 million to nearly 600 million by 2050. That would place tremendous stress on countries where climate scientists predict significantly lower rainfall and saltier groundwater from rising sea levels. Already, most countries in the region face acute water crises because of dry climates, surging consumption and wasteful agricultural practices.