Climate Change Drastically Increases Drought Likelihood in Middle East

A new report reveals that climate change has made the three-year extreme drought in Syria, Iraq, and Iran significantly more likely.

Increased Likelihood

  • Climate change has made the extreme drought about 25 times more likely in Syria and Iraq, and 16 times more likely in Iran.
  • In a 1.2 degrees Celsius cooler world, the extreme drought would have been considered normal.
  • Experts suggest that this drought would not have occurred without climate change, primarily driven by the burning of oil, gas, and coal.

Dire Consequences

  • The drought has had dire consequences on the livelihoods and health of people in Iran, Syria, and Iraq.
  • The regions have experienced up to 95% below-average rainfall since the winter of 2020.
  • In rural Syria, the drought displaced nearly two million people, with 60% of them facing food insecurity.
  • Iran has faced water shortages, triggering tensions with neighboring countries, and causing food prices to rise. Iraq is also dealing with water insecurity.

Multiple Impacts

  • The drought has led to various impacts, including wildfires, air pollution, and the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera.
  • Conflict and security concerns have further reduced people’s ability to respond to the drought in Syria and Iraq.

Future Projections

  • If global warming reaches 2°C above the preindustrial era, similar droughts are expected to occur about twice as often as they do now.
  • Climate change-driven prolonged heat plays a crucial role in turning droughts into extreme events, even when low levels of rainfall are not significantly influenced by climate change.

Attribution Study

  • Researchers used weather data and climate models to compare how the drought event changed between today’s climate with approximately 1.2°C of global warming and the cooler preindustrial climate.
  • The event’s primary driver was the strong increase in temperature and potential evapotranspiration (PET), which represents the loss of water through plant transpiration and surface evaporation.
  • Other factors such as land degradation, desertification, water stress, and conflict have also contributed to the region’s vulnerability to drought.

Contrary to IPCC Projection

  • The findings differ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projection, which had low confidence in drought occurring in the region.
  • Attribution studies indicate that higher temperatures are turning many droughts into extreme events, even if climate change does not significantly affect rainfall levels.



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