[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials related to environmental issues in the Middle East. It does not reflect the views of the Environment Page of Jadaliyya.]
The Gulf is the World's Hot Spot for Extreme Temperatures, Study Reveals The National (24 May 2020)
Temperature and humidity data reveal that the Gulf has experienced increasingly unsustainable weather due to global warming.
Supertanker State: How Qatar is Gambling its Future on Global Gas Dominance Middle East Eye (2 July 2020)
Qatar, the world’s leading producer and exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG), has seen an increase in demand in recent years due to perceptions of LNG being a “cleaner” fossil fuel. However, despite anticipated massive price and demand drops for LNG caused by COVID-19 and the concurrent global financial crisis, Qatar indicates it will push ahead with massive infrastructural expansion for LNG extraction and global shipping.
Oil Spill from Yemen Tanker 'Would be Four Times Worse than Exxon Valdez' – UN The Guardian (16 July 2020) and Yemen in Focus: Safer Oil Tanker Spill would be 'Disastrous for the World' The New Arab (22 July 2020)
A decaying oil tanker moored off of the west coast of Yemen is at risk of spilling 1.1 million barrels of crude oil which would heavily impact the marine environment, fishing and the port city of Hodeida. Negotiations between Houthi rebels who control the ship and UN inspectors are tenuous, although tentative agreements to allow engineers to evaluate the ship have been reached.
Floods Kill at Least 14 People in Yemen after Days of Heavy Rain Al-Jazeera (29 July 2020)
An unexpectedly heavy rainy season has led to flash flooding particularly in south and west Yemen, causing damage to crops and electrical infrastructure and destroying the property of thousands of internal refugees.
Scaled-Down Hajj Begins in Coronavirus Era The Guardian (29 July 2020)
This photo essay depicts Mecca’s socially distanced hajj as well as Eid al-Adha preparation under COVID-19.
Is Peak Oil Finally Here? OPEC Prepares for Age of Falling Demand Al-Jazeera English (28 July 2020)
Global reductions in fossil fuel consumption due to COVID-19 has prompted a consideration of whether the “peak” of oil consumption has been reached.
World's Largest Oil Firm Agrees to Carbon Cuts to Tackle Climate Crisis The Guardian (16 July 2020)
Saudi Aramco, alongside other fossil fuel corporations like Shell and BP, has signed a pledge to “reduce the carbon intensity of fuel production” by 2025, but global climate change activists have criticized this industry-led initiative as greenwashing because it evades setting a target for absolute reductions in carbon emissions.
“UAE Starts First Nuclear Reactor at Controversial Barakah Plant” Al-Jazeera English (1 August 2020)
While the United Arab Emirates celebrates the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world as a renewable resource moving away from fossil fuel dependence, energy experts caution about potential environmental and security threats the plant may pose.
More in the New York Times (1 August 2020)
In Mecca, Dreams of a ‘Green Hajj’ The New Arab (2 August 2020)
The vastly reduced number of pilgrims due to COVID-19 provides a possible vision for a smaller carbon footprint and other “green” measures for hajj in the future.
“Yemen’s Red Sea 'Time Bomb’ is a Beirut-like Disaster in Waiting” Al-Monitor (12 August 2020)
The blast at Beirut’s port brings new attention to the potentially catastrophic effects of a leak from the aging oil tanker moored off of the western shore of Yemen.
“Historic Houses in Sanaa's Old City on Brink of Collapse After Heavy Rains” Middle East Eye (16 August 2020)
Massive flooding since April has already killed over one hundred Yemenis; the UNESCO world heritage site of the mud buildings in Sanaa have been seriously damaged by the torrential water, and are at risk of collapse if preservation action is not taken.
“Qatar: Nature and Development at a Crossroads” Al-Jazeera English (22 August 2020)
This video story chronicles Qatar’s desert and ocean biodiversity and the impacts of Gulf development on wildlife conservation efforts.
Egypt and Sudan
Coronavirus: Egypt to Raise Electricity Prices amid Economic Woes Middle East Eye (9 June 2020)
Despite falling global energy costs, the government of Egypt aims to remove subsidies for electricity. Privatization of the energy sector will increase the vulnerability of segments of the population most exposed to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
‘It Would Spread Quickly in Those Cells’: Covid-19 Imperils Packed Egypt Prison The Guardian (22 June 2020)
The pandemic has exacerbated inhumane conditions for inmates in Egypt’s Tora prison.
في ريف مصر، المرض رفاهية غير متاحة للاهالي Al-Safir al-’Arabi (14 July 2020)
The villages around Beni Suef south of Cairo are home to important agricultural production and resource extraction (notably cement production). However, the residents, already suffering from the state’s increasing austerity measures, have been hit hard by COVID-19, compounded by state neglect to combat the spread of the virus in rural areas or provide adequate hospital resources.
Ethiopia Denies Reports Government has Started Filling Dam The Washington Post (15 July 2020)
The reservoir of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has started filling either from seasonal rains (according to the government of Ethiopia) or because its gates were closed–in contravention of trilateral agreements with Sudan and Egypt.
'We Had to Eat our Seeds for Planting': 10 Million in Sudan Facing Food Shortages The Guardian (28 July 2020)
Sudan sees the highest number of people facing severe food shortages in its history due to the combination of COVID-19, economic crisis, and a delayed rainy season.
“In Pictures: Highways Threaten Cairo's Historic City of the Dead” Al-Jazeera English (2 August 2020)
Conservation architects and neighborhood leaders protest highway expansion and modernization projects throughout Cairo, which have impacted historical sites and green spaces.
“Egypt and Sudan Suspend Nile Dam Talks in Protest at Ethiopian Proposal” Middle East Eye (5 August 2020)
Talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have stalled over concerns from Egypt and Sudan over the lack of a binding nature of the agreements. Ethiopia hails the dam as a major boon for bringing electricity to millions in the region, while Egypt and Sudan’s governments have heavily criticized the dam project as threatening their domestic water supplies.
“'Means Our Death': Egyptian Farmers Fear Effect of Ethiopia Dam” AlJazeera English (20 August 2020)
Farmers in the Fayoum Oasis, living in villages built during Nasserist agricultural expansion in the 1960s, fear that their already-dwindling irrigation supplies will be hard hit by the building of the GERD, a new dam on the Blue Nile.
“Egypt Casts About for Ways to Protect Fisheries from GERD Effects” Al-Monitor (27 August 2020)
A study published in July indicates both native fish species and massive aquaculture farms on the Nile may be harmed by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Precipitation Brings Hamoun Wetland back to Life Peyvand (1 May 2020)
A two-decade long drought has broken in southeastern Iran, reinvigorating the area’s extensive wetlands.
Locusts Complete Triad of Humanitarian Threats Facing Iran The New Humanitarian (6 May 2020)
Locusts add a new dimension to Iran’s woes but spur cross-border cooperation between Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
Forest Fires Sweep across Mountainous Region in Southwest Iran Middle East Eye (3 June 2020)
More than 300 hectares of the Zagros mountains have been affected by the forest fires, prompting the loss of flora and wildlife.
Iranian Fleet Accused of Stealing Somalian Fish Despite Acute Food Shortage The Guardian (29 June 2020)
Fishermen operating under Iranian flags have exploited the unguarded coastline of Somalia and Yemen, exacerbating the food crisis in both countries.
GPS-Tagged Egyptian Vulture ‘Loma’ Lost In Iraq Nature Iraq (4 May 2020)
Rare bird meets untimely end in Iraq.
"إليسو" التركي يبدأ بالعمل بعد أزمة مع العراق... وسد جديد يهدد مياه "دجلة" Raseef 22 (19 May 2020)
Turkish dam construction threatens Iraq’s water resources and strains the countries’ bilateral relationship.
Last Chance for the Persian Leopard: the Fight to Save Iraqi Kurdistan’s Forests The Guardian (20 June 2020)
The endangered leopard population suffers from the shrinking of its oak-forest habitat.
Southern Iraq’s Toxic Twilight: Burning Gas and Poisoning the Air New York Times (16 July 2020)
Iraq’s attempts to cut back on “flaring,” or burning off natural gas from oil wells, has been stymied by years of war and economic precarity. While the government is moving forward with plans to recapture the natural gas from southern Iraq’s wells in the coming years, existing environmental laws have been poorly enforced. In the meantime, the residents of Basra Province have suffered from flaring’s massive pollution of air and water, causing suspected “cancer clusters” among other health impacts.
Baghdad Soars to 125 Blistering Degrees, its Highest Temperature on Record Washington Post (29 July 2020)
A high-pressure ridge has caused massive record-breaking heat waves across Iraq and Lebanon--while the air pressure event is naturally occurring, Baghdad recorded its last hottest temperature in 2015, and year-to-year climate change has caused more frequent and intensive heat events around the world.
Iraqis Protest over Power Cuts amid Record Summer Temperatures Al-Jazeera English (29 July 2020)
This video story chronicles the growing anger against government electricity cuts in the midst of Iraq’s record-breaking heat wave, leaving families without any cooling or refrigeration.
Quand masques et gants envahissent le bitume à Beyrouth L’Orient le Jour (15 May 2020)
Photo essay of litter from disposable gloves and masks in Beirut.
Najib Saab, Does Corona Really Benefit the Environment? The Daily Star (15 May 2020)
Lina Mounzer, Waste Away: Notes on Beirut’s Broken Sewage System The Baffler (7 July 2020)
This narrative long-form essay poetically examines the “rebuilding” of post-war Beirut’s sewage infrastructure and cityscape to reflect on the confluence of climate change, privatized development, and persistent corruption in Lebanon.
Lebanon economic crisis: Food prices are so high not even shops can afford them Middle East Eye (8 July 2020)
A look at how Lebanon’s rapidly escalating currency crisis impacts the food system: meat and fruit have turned into luxury goods, while wheat shortages lead to panic buying and decreasing stocks of bread.
اقتراح لتعديل قانون المياه في لبنان: توسيع أطر الخصخصة وصلاحيات وزارة الطاقة والمياه وتقويض حرية إنشاء جمعيات مستخدمي مياه الري Legal Agenda (8 July 2020)
Parliamentary committees discuss the potential amendment of regulations regarding irrigation rights.
“هل بدأت المجاعة فعلاً في لبنان؟” Raseef22 (2 July)
The history of Lebanon’s World War I-era famine, plagued by locusts, looms today as COVID-19 and the currency crisis has had huge impacts on food imports, leading to meat and bread shortages and concerns of much worse to come.
Lebanese Protest World Bank Dam in Bisri Valley Al-Monitor (27 July 2020)
Protestors gathered in Beirut and took to Twitter to protest the World Bank’s Bisri Dam project, which they argue will have major environmental impacts.
“Air Quality a Concern in Beirut Following Explosion” Al-Monitor (6 August 2020)
The Beirut blast caused an immediate spike in poor air quality in Beirut.
“Lebanon Faces Humanitarian Emergency After Blast” The Lancet (World News section) (15 August 2020)
The massive blast in Beirut comes at a time of an existing public health crisis due to COVID-19. The blast, which destroyed fully or partially multiple hospitals, may also have acute or chronic health impacts from particulate matter and other forms of air pollution.
“UN Warns of Waste Released by Beirut Blast” VOA (16 August 2020)
UN environmental observers raise concerns that the physical damage to countless buildings across Beirut could expose latent toxic pollutants, in addition to as yet unidentified potential impacts of the blast on the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem.
“‘Cancer of the Industry’: Beirut's Blast Proves Lethal Risk of Abandoning Ships” The Guardian (20 August 2020)
The ammonium nitrate which caused the Beirut blast came from a ship abandoned in the port. This acute disaster exposes the longer-running global issue of ship abandonment, causing myriad environmental and labor harms.
“Toxic Gas Released After Beirut Explosion: How Bad is It?” DW (Deutsche Welle) (27 August 2020)
Toxic nitrogen oxide and ammonium released from the explosion of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port may combine with and exacerbate existing poor air quality to have lasting health and environmental effects even after initial clean-up efforts. Continuing political corruption hampers the ability for environmental scientists to collect and report on air quality levels.
Under the Cover of Lockdown, Illegal Logging Surges in Tunisia Reuters (1 May 2020)
Desperation during the lockdown caused an uptick of logging endangered Algerian oaks for charcoal.
Moroccans Navigate Abuse and Coronavirus to Pick Spain's 'Red Gold' Middle East Eye (6 May 2020)
Photo essay on Moroccan migrant strawberry pickers who migrate for seasonal work in southern Spain’s agricultural sector. Many face abuse with little option for recourse.
الطبيعة تعاقبنا ... ثعابين تزحف في شوارع تونس وتقتحم البيوت Raseef 22 (13 May 2020)
The lockdown has caused wildlife populations, including snakes, to come into Tunisian cities and reinvigorated the fisheries along the coast.
Tunisia's Sea Turtles are Beating the Odds as They Inch towards Survival The Guardian (31 May 2020)
Turtle populations have surged despite the threats posed by pollution and global warming.
المُزارِع في موريتانيا يحتاج إلى الدعم Al-Safir al-’Arabi (28 July 2020)
Farmers in southern Mauritania have risen in protest to urge the government to step in to save this year’s rice harvest, laying in fields due to a lack of mechanical harvesters available. The protests expose what farmers argue are historical issues of government neglect towards agriculturalists.
“Flamingos and Humans: Tunis Suburb Debates Development” Meshkal (18 August 2020)
A new “green” development project in the outskirts of Tunis may threaten some of the last remaining wetlands, home to flamingos and dozens of other species of migratory birds.
“Morocco: Controversies Over Import of Combustible Waste” Afrik 21 (21 August 2020)
Environmental groups protest the government’s decision to allow waste from Europe to be imported and burned as a fuel source; claims that the waste burned is “non-toxic” has been met with skepticism from environmentalists.
Palestine and Jordan
What Will Happen to Palestinian Land the Day after Annexation? 972 Magazine (3 May 2020)
Despite all of the uncertainties around formal Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, one certainty remains that Palestinians will lose access to the agricultural land on which they rely.
Zena Agha, Climate Apartheid in Palestine Progressive International (5 May 2020)
Occupation denies Palestinians the ability to cope with climate change.
In Jerash Refugee Camp, Lockdown Means ‘Living Without Eating’ 972 Magazine (12 May 2020)
Lockdown regulations hurt one of Jordan’s most vulnerable populations—Palestinians living in refugee camps.
Despite Pandemic, Israeli Army Shoots at Water Tanks in Palestinian Village Mondoweiss (27 May 2020)
An Israeli human rights group has accused the Israeli military of intentionally shooting the water tanks on Palestinian homes to impose collective punishment on a vulnerable population.
Home Gardening Plants Seeds for Palestinian Self-Sufficiency 972 Magazine (12 June 2020)
A coordinated effort to enhance national food self-sufficiency has emerged during the pandemic.
Israel’s ‘Strangling’ of Bethlehem Tightens as World Debates Annexation 972 Magazine (16 June 2020)
Settlement activity denies Palestinian residents in the Bethlehem region access to their land.
Jordan Smoking Rates Highest in World amid Claims of Big Tobacco Interference The Guardian (23 June 2020)
Lobbyists from international corporations are involved in making smoking regulations in Jordan. In contrast with global trends, smoking among the Jordanian population is on the rise.
Settlers Trespass on Palestinian Land to Build a Pool for Their Children 972 Magazine (7 July 2020)
With the threat of annexation still overhead, settlers have taken advantage of Palestinian movement restrictions from COVID-19 to build on Palestinian agricultural land in Area C, near the Wadi Qana nature reserve.
After Settlers Establish Outpost, Israeli Army Blocks Road to Palestinians 972 Magazine (14 July 2020)
Settlers established an illegal outpost on Palestinian land between Nablus and Jenin; now, the Israeli army has erected an earthen mound to block Palestinian farmers from reaching their land and violently suppressed village protests.
Battle for Silwan: The Palestinian family fighting Israeli eviction in Jerusalem The New Arab (15 July 2020)
The Sumarin family has been fighting eviction from their home just outside of the Old City for years, but on 30 June Israel’s district court ordered them to leave their home by August. The Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) has been the driving force behind the eviction, using Israel’s Absentee Property Law to push out the Sumarin family as has been the pattern for settler takeover homes throughout East Jerusalem.
Palestine’s First Animal Welfare Charity Faces Challenges from the Occupation and Covid-19 Middle East Monitor (18 July 2020)
The Palestinian Animal League (PAL) rescues and cares for stray animals across the West Bank. However, movement restrictions due to the occupation which already hindered their ability to reach animals in need have become worse due to COVID-19, making getting medical supplies and food to the animals even more difficult.
‘I Want Battir to Go to Hell’: Settlers Move in on Palestinian World Heritage Site 972 Magazine (29 July 2020)
The village of Battir south of Jerusalem, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its agricultural terraces, have faced escalating harassment from settlers from a nearby illegal outpost looking to seize their land.
“Ramallah’s Farmers’ Market is Taking a Stand Against Annexation” Middle East Monitor (2 August 2020)
Palestinians work to connect local residents directly with farmers, helping small-scale producers to stay on their lands despite pressure from Israeli occupation and Palestinian urbanization.
“‘A Rare Chance’: Palestinians Cross Breach in Separation Barrier to Enjoy the Sea” 972 Magazine (11 August 2020)
Since Eid al-Adha, Palestinians in the West Bank have been slipping through unpermitted holes in the “separation fence” to visit the beaches in Jaffa and Haifa. The IDF seemingly is allowing this practice to continue despite normal harsh measures for unpermitted crossings, and Palestinians are celebrating this chance to see the sea—some for the first time in decades, or ever—and visit villages they or their families were expelled from.
“Watch: Jerusalem Chef Resists Israeli Occupation by Celebrating Palestinian Food Culture” Mondoweiss (18 August 2020)
This short film profiles Izzeldin Bukhari, a Palestinian chef in the Old City, who cooks both traditional and updated takes on Palestinian cuisine yet struggles to source local and sustainable produce due to the occupation.
“The Story of Israel’s Ashkenazi Supremacy in One River” 972 Magazine (18 August 2020)
The predominantly Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) kibbutz of Nir David has prohibited public use of the Asi river running through the kibbutz, and protestors from the predominantly Mizrahi (Jews of Arab descent) communities nearby have been met with threats of and actual physical violence. The author argues the Zionist left’s support of fencing off the Asi River as “environmental protection” exposes the racist nature of the Ashkenazi left in Israel against both Palestinians and Mizrahim.
“Gaza’s Health Sector at Risk as Israel’s Week-Long Airstrikes Continue” Mondoweiss (21 August 2020)
Israel bombed the Gaza Strip for over a week and cut power supplies due to what they termed a response to incendiary balloons. Palestinians in Gaza express their outrage over these collective public health punishments during an already precarious time due to COVID-19.
“Israel Moots Plan to Buy Solar Power from Former Enemy Jordan” The Guardian (23 August 2020)
Israel wants to expand renewable energy but has limitations due to land availability, so Israeli environmentalists have been advocating for the purchase of power from solar plants in Jordan. However, Israel’s impending threat of annexation of parts of the West Bank could torpedo this environmental diplomacy.
“Israel-Hamas Escalation Halts Sewage Treatment, Generates Ecological Crisis” Al-Monitor (24 August 2020)
The shutdown of Gaza’s power plants due to Israel’s siege of Gaza could lead to a massive ecological disaster, if sewage treatment plants cease their operations due to a lack of electricity.
“COVID-19 in Palestine: Refugee Camps At Risk” Mondoweiss (26 August 2020)
This short film examines the public and environmental health impacts of coronavirus in urban Palestinian refugee camps, focusing on Dheisheh Camp near Bethlehem.
“A ‘Road Revolution’: Settlers Push Israel to Expand West Bank Infrastructure” 972 Magazine (27 August 2020)
A proposed new Jewish settler-only road running between Jerusalem and western Ramallah would cut Palestinian farmers off from their land and potentially de facto annex more land in the Jerusalem periphery, while environmentalists express concern about the ecological impacts of new road construction.
"شو يعني" انتشار كورونا في قطاع غزَّة؟ Al-Safir al-’Arabi (30 August 2020)
The recent news of the first cases of community spread COVID-19 in Gaza led to a sudden shut-down. Questions arise as to where the spread came from and the negative economic and public health impacts of a full closure “state of emergency” when Gaza is already suffering from massive poverty and high unemployment.
“Human Rights Groups Demand Israel Allow Fuel Into COVID-Struck Gaza” 972 Magazine (31 August 2020)
Israel has prohibited fuel from entering Gaza since 13 August, leading to power plant shutdowns. Multiple humanitarian groups petitioned the government to allow for fuel and supplies to enter Gaza due to the humanitarian crisis.
Damascus Struggles to Secure Wheat Supply amidst Coronavirus Crisis Syria Direct (18 May 2020)
The Syrian regime admits facing serious problems sourcing wheat for the population. Much of the country’s grain lands are under the control of the government of the autonomous Kurdish region. The declining purchasing power of the Syrian lira has undermined the state’s ability to purchase wheat from abroad.
Black Waters: Oil Spills Pollute Northeast Syria Creeks The New Arab (24 July 2020)
Oil leaks in Syrian Kurdistan from war-damaged infrastructure have poured into waterways, coating grazing animals—many have sickened and died—and causing disturbing acute (and potentially chronic) human health impacts.
"Quench Our Thirst"... A Lyrical Song, the Climate Crisis and Arab Revolutions Raseef 22 (19 July 2020)
A traditional Arabic lyrical poem which prayed for rain during droughts centuries past in Aleppo still has poignant relevance today, as linked socio-ecological turmoil continues to impact the Levant.
“Syrian Refugees Grow Crops in Old Mattresses” Al-Jazeera English (10 August 2020)
Syrian refugees in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan get creative with sustainable agricultural techniques due to limited land resources in the camp.
“OPINION: What Does Islam Say About Climate Change and Climate Action?” Al-Jazeera English (12 August 2020)
A Turkish environmentalist calls for using teachings from Islam to spread environmentalism in Muslim countries as an alternative to saviorist models of conservation.
“Flooding in Turkey Kills at Least Eight in Bitter Reminder of Climate Chaos” Al-Monitor (24 August 2020)
Major flooding in the northern Black Sea regions of Turkey may be due to a combination of higher than average rainfall in August, combined with years of infrastructural development reshaping the landscape.
More on the flooding at Al-Jazeera (24 August 2020) and Middle East Eye (25 August 2020)