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Black Migrants In Middle East Should Leave Before Climate Disasters Start!

The Writing Is On The Wall For Those Marginalized In the Middle East. Be Glad You Have A Place To Go. If Middle Eastern Country's See Climate Refugees, Who Will Take Them In?

The Gulf region is facing a formidable challenge as it tackles the adverse effects of climate change alongside a host of complex and interrelated issues. After years of denial, Gulf countries have come to recognize the devastating impacts of climate change on their stability, security, and viability. However, what is needed to mitigate these impacts—a resolute political will and collaborative efforts across all sectors of society—is still coalescing.

Saudi Arabia, much like other countries in the region, is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as it severely threatens the nation’s physical environment, society, and governmental institutions. Among the greatest concerns are temperature rises. The region’s temperatures are already well above the global average, with extreme heatwaves reaching over 50 degrees Celsius in 2021 in Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. If the trend continues, large portions of the region are expected to become uninhabitable by the end of this century. Climatologists have warned that, in the near term, the region is on track to be 4 degrees warmer by 2050, far exceeding the 1.5-degree limit needed to prevent global ecological collapse.

Flash floods are another major concern. Despite being an extremely arid country, Saudi Arabia is often subject to periodic intense and heavy rainfall. When coupled with the presence of unplanned settlements and the lack of proper rainwater diversion infrastructure in several major cities, this rainfall can lead to flash floods. Flooding is a notable and common occurrence in Saudi Arabia’s mountainous southwestern region and has led to significant loss of life and major property damage over the past several years.

Paradoxically, droughts are also a worry. Despite the increase in extreme and episodic heavy rainfall, climate change is predicted to cause a general decrease in national rainfall patterns and an increase in evaporation rates. Climate change forecasts indicate that the country will endure more extensive dry periods, resulting in the rapid depletion of groundwater reservoirs and the worsening of water scarcity for vulnerable and marginalized populations. Saudi Arabia is classified as one of the most water-scarce countries on the planet, with its per capita water demand levels double the global average at 265 liters per day.

The country’s growing groundwater consumption has led to a stark decline in national aquifer levels, causing severe land subsidence in some parts of the country. And Saudi Arabia’s water crisis is by no means limited to its national jurisdictions. By 2050, the entire Gulf region could face a 50 percent reduction in water availability per capita, posing significant risks to food security and economic stability, as well as potentially sparking a rise in carbon emissions for Saudi Arabia as the country resorts much more to the energy-intensive desalinization process to meet its water requirements.

Rising sea levels also present a critical threat to the coastal regions of Saudi Arabia, including major cities such as Jeddah and Dammam. The impacts of sea-level rise on infrastructure, economic activity, and the social fabric of these regions could be catastrophic, with nearly 200,000 people expected to be exposed to persistent coastal flooding by 2050.

The interrelated effects of desertification, sea-level rise, and water scarcity will likely have serious implications for the country’s agricultural production and overall food security. Saudi Arabia already imports 80 percent of its food, and these climate-induced events may increase the country’s reliance on food imports. If the Kingdom continues down a high–carbon emissions pathway, it will likely witness an 88 percent increase in agricultural droughts by 2050, and its already miniscule domestic food production will collapse as a result.

While the effects of climate change in Saudi Arabia pose a significant threat countrywide, some demographic groups will increasingly carry a much heavier burden, such as Black migrant workers, sectarian minorities, and the so-called “stateless” Bidoon population (in Arabic, the term is bidoon jinsiya).

Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are particularly vulnerable because they are often subject to substandard living and working conditions, exploitation, and abuse because of racism. They also lack legal protections and adequate access to social services such as healthcare and education, making them even more susceptible to devastating climate change effects. As extreme weather events become more frequent, migrant workers will often be the first to bear the brunt of their impacts. Saudi border guards are accused of the mass killing of migrants along the Yemeni border in a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report says hundreds of people, many of them Ethiopians who cross war-torn Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia, have been shot dead and left to rot in the sun. Country's like Saudi Arabia that are facing existential threats will find it difficult to seek access and aid from those nations whose citizens they currently abuse and Europe is already protesting the number of Middle Easterners entering their lands.

The hazardous and physically demanding conditions in which migrant workers often work in Saudi Arabia expose them to higher levels of heat stress, air pollution, and other climate change–related risks. Long working hours, low pay, and suboptimal safety and health training exacerbate their challenges in adapting to the impacts of climate change. Moreover, their lack of legal protections, inability to unionize, and limited access to social services makes it difficult for them to assert their rights and advocate for improved working conditions.

Sectarian minorities, particularly Shiites, also face significant adaptive challenges. They often have limited access to information and education resources on climate change adaptation and, even though the situation is improving, are still generally excluded from important decision making processes. Dismal economic opportunities further hinder their adaptive capacity, particularly if they are employed in agriculture or fishing, where climate change impacts such as droughts and ocean acidification can reduce their income and employment opportunities. Discrimination and social exclusion also exacerbate their climate change vulnerability.

The Bidoon population in Saudi Arabia is another vulnerable group. It largely comprises descendants of the nomadic tribes who failed to register for Saudi nationality during early state formation. Figures are difficult to come by, as the issue of stateless people is quite complex and there are no official data, but it is estimated that between 70,000 and 250,000 Bidoon live in the country. This relatively large demographic places Saudi Arabia among the countries with the largest populations of stateless people. Yet because of the attitude of Saudis many of the stateless are opting to return and fight the forces in their countries that keep the masses disenfranchised.

The Bidoon often live in informal settlements with inadequate housing and infrastructure and lack legal recognition and protection. Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, will have a destructive impact on the Bidoon population, many of whom rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Droughts and desertification will also make it more difficult for pastoralists among the Bidoon to raise livestock, another important source of income for many Bidoon families. Further, the predicted rising sea levels and coastal flooding will impact the Bidoon who live in coastal communities, leading to the loss of homes, land, and livelihoods. The Bidoon will be at a significant disadvantage when it comes to rebuilding and recovery efforts.

Despite its multibillion-dollar investments in climate change mitigation, Saudi Arabia has been sluggish in pursuing climate change adaptation measures, establishing supportive institutional frameworks, and building resilience among its communities. Nevertheless, the government has put forth some strategies for a proactive approach to countering the impacts of climate change.

The Saudi Green Initiative, launched in March 2021, is an impressive plan patterned after the plans of several sub Saharan nations like Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal and designed to promote environmental protection, energy transition, and economic sustainability in the country. It includes several programs, which aim to plant 10 billion trees, reduce carbon emissions, and improve air quality in the country’s cities. While these programs represent important steps toward mitigating the impacts of climate change, they may not be sufficient to guarantee that marginalized communities are fully included in these efforts and have a say in decision making.

One promising example of a more participatory approach is the resilience project in Dammam. This project focuses on improving urban planning to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the city’s residents. It engages local communities and civil society organizations in the planning and implementation of environmental projects to ensure that the unique needs and concerns of marginalized groups are taken into account. This type of approach can help to empower marginalized people, promote inclusivity and equity, and increase the likelihood of climate change adaptation efforts being successful and maybe give some an increasingly necessary safety net!


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