The Gulf region, like other parts of the world, grapples with the challenge of sustainable development amidst economic and population growth, while also addressing the environmental concerns posed by global climate change. This change, primarily due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, affects ecosystems, weather extremes, water availability, agriculture, and most notably, human health. Three specific impacts of climate change on human health in the Gulf are:
Heatwaves: The Gulf is already known for its intense heatwaves, especially in cities like Dhahran and Dubai. Studies predict that, if current emission trends continue, these cities will experience intolerable heatwaves, with wet bulb temperatures exceeding 35°C. This could lead to increased incidences of heat strokes and potential fatalities, especially in areas like Makkah during the Hajj pilgrimage.
Climate Change and Hajj: Hajj, a significant Islamic pilgrimage, sees millions of Muslims, especially the elderly, gather in Makkah annually. Due to the lunar calendar, the Hajj dates shift approximately 11 days earlier each solar year. Research indicates that, in the coming decades, heat stress during Hajj will reach dangerous levels, even with mitigation efforts. The health risks during Hajj are influenced by the intensity of heat, the vulnerability of the pilgrims, and the capacity of Hajj facilities. As the number of Muslims and thus potential pilgrims grows, managing these challenges becomes even more complex. Strategies might include shifting Hajj to cooler months or limiting the number of participants.
Potential Emergence of Dengue Fever: Dengue, transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, is rapidly spreading globally. While the Gulf region hasn't faced significant Dengue challenges in the past, the future might be different due to population growth, urbanization, climate change, and increased travel. Many expatriates in the Gulf come from Dengue-prevalent regions, like India, potentially introducing the virus. The primary concern is the establishment of the Aedes mosquito in urban Gulf environments. Learning from Singapore's experience, early prevention is more effective than addressing the disease after its establishment.
In conclusion, the Gulf region needs to address these potential health impacts of climate change through research, planning, and proactive measures.
Source: Pal and Elfaith, 2015
Notes: The histogram bin interval is 0.5°C and the values on the y-axis indicate the number of exceedances. Values indicated within each plot represent the 50th and 95th percentile event thresholds. TWMAX is the maximum daily value averaged over a 6h window.