The Arab Response to Climate Change
By Haneen Abu Al Neel/Arab America Contributing Writer
When you think Climate Change Activist, perhaps first comes to mind, Greta Thunberg. Her internet fame scored a new high due to interactions, speeches and comments, and even facial expressions she makes around world leaders (like her angry glare at President Trump at the UN climate summit). A 16-year old kid protesting climate change and telling adults, “How Dare You!” is a perfect sound bite for the internet and social media to harp on to highlight the importance of the issue.
However, seldom does mainstream media talk about the countries that would experience the impacts of climate change first, and often, more intensely. It is predicted for the consequences of climate change to hit the hardest in developing countries, which means that climate refugees will be predominantly non-White.
Today, rapidly changing climate has prolonged droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, created devastating tropical storms in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, and worsened floods in the Middle East. Increasing heatwaves impacted people across the Arabian Gulf, Greece, Japan, Pakistan, India, all the way to the Arctic Circle last summer. The list of countries having to deal with the consequences of climate change will only grow longer, with most of them being in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, if the international community does not agree on tangible and quick solutions.
The impacts of climate change are especially crucial to countries who are water-scarce and cannot afford to pay to keep the dangers at bay via geo-engineering. In Jordan, for instance, while the rain is a blessing to the agricultural sectors and results in some memes poking fun of how ill-equipped the municipalities are to deal with rain, flash floods have become a severe problem. In 2018, a school bus on a trip to Ma’een hot springs fell in the mud leaving 17 students dead and many injured. This is a first in Jordan’s history.
Summer 2019 in the Gulf nations and their neighbors was excruciating due to increasing heatwaves. Temperatures reaching 52.2 degrees Celsius (125 F) in the shadows and 63 (145 F) in direct sunlight in Kuwait (Gulf News) set a bleak vision for how the future might look like. The Arabian Gulf is expected to be humanely uninhabitable by the year 2070, according to a new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professors Jeremy Pal and Elfatih Eltahir in the Nature Climate Change journal. All these warnings are nothing short of sci-fi horror stories, but sadly are too close to becoming a reality in the Arab world.
So, the question becomes, if the Arab world is one of the prime and early victims of climate change, why are they not leading the conversation by raising awareness and organizing? Are people not witnessing the changes? Do they not care? Well, the short answer is; this is a false claim. Truth is that many young climate activists and organizations are trying to shift the national dialogue to preemptive solutions for inevitable natural disasters ahead.
In Tunisia, Mohammed Oussama Houij took it upon himself to start collecting plastic debris across the 300 Kilometers coast, a trip that took him 58 days. While he started this journey alone, he was quickly joined by passersby and residents of the cities he was roaming. His initiative finally got some publicity when a few municipal workers were caught on camera dumping trash into a near-by lake that will deposit it on the beach – where Mohammed was cleaning up.
In Lebanon, Joelle Zgheib, the 17-year old founder of Extinction Rebellion Lebanon, decided to start mobilizing her friends and colleagues to join her on the path to cleaner air, water, and streets. Extinction Rebellion Lebanon is the first branch of the UK based climate group, an achievement sure to move the needle on the climate conversation in Lebanon.
In Morocco, Hajar Khamlichi is the president and co-founder of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network, a web of climate groups led by young people across the Mediterranean. Hajar’s primary purpose is to make sure the young Arabs’ voices are heard and our issues regarding climate change considered at an international level. Morocco has made strides in developing renewable energy sectors, banning plastic bags, and providing more support to farmers to adjust to the weather shifts.
In Jordan, environmental advocate and youth activist Omar Al Shoshan is a constant grounding voice for the country’s response to climate change. With frequent TV appearances and a chair at tables with ministers and other officials, Omar has become a renowned local expert on national climate resolutions. Omar is the vice president of the Watershed & Development Initiative (WADI) and the president of the Jordan Environmental Union (JEU), both of which are leading voices in the country’s efforts in responding to climate change.
The mentioned above are only some of the many examples of people realigning the national dialogue regarding climate action in the MENA region. However, they remain rarely covered by mainstream international media despite the region being one of the first victims of climate change. While this is a question to pose to the international community, it remains true that whether media is present or absent, the MENA region is vibrant with change-makers.
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