Deaths due to heat in Middle East & North Africa likely to rise 60 times by end of century

Over 80% deaths can be prevented by limiting global warming to 2°C

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 11 April 2023

The number of heat-related deaths in the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is likely to increase 60 times by the end of this century, warned a new study released April 3, 2023.

In comparison to two deaths (2.1) per 100,000 people estimated currently, about 123 people per 100,000 are expected to die of heat-related causes annually by the end of this century under high-emissions scenarios, the report stated.

High-emissions scenario refers to a scenario called shared socio-economic pathway (SSP)5-8·5, where the current CO2 emissions levels roughly double by 2050. This reflects the SSP representing a fossil fuel intensive world. 

The current heat-related death rates in MENA are relatively low as compared to other regions, but the future rates in MENA are projected to be far higher than what has previously been observed in other regions, alerted the study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

For example, the current annual heat-related death rate in the United Kingdom is three per 100,000 population and is projected to rise to nine per 100,000 by the 2080s. All MENA countries will see substantially larger increases than this under all scenarios, except for SSP1-2·6.

Iran most vulnerable 

On June 24, 2022, Iran recorded a scorching temperature of 52.2°C, which was supposedly the hottest temperature recorded on Earth in 2022 and one of the highest “pre-solstice” temperatures ever recorded.

In August 5, 2022, the country registered the year’s hottest temperature at over 53°C, making it the hottest day recorded in the month in the country’s history. 

Iran is expected to be the most vulnerable country to heat-related deaths by the end of this century. The number of heat-related deaths in the country are likely to increase by about 49-times by the end of this century. 

In comparison to 11 deaths per 100,000 people estimated currently, over 540 people per 100,000 are expected to die of heat-related causes annually by the end of this century under high-emissions scenarios in Iran.

This is also over four-times more than the global death burden (or 123 deaths per 100,000) estimated by the study.

Iran, along with Iraq, Israel, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are projected to have high future mortality burdens even though the corresponding heat coefficient was the smallest.

Much of this increase will be driven by population changes, and so demographic policies and healthy ageing will be key to successful adaptation, suggests the study done by an international team of researchers led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

The smaller but prosperous nations in MENA – UAE, Qatar and Oman — will experience the greatest percentage increases in heat-related mortality rates relative to their current rates.

There is hope

Over 80 per cent of the deaths projected in MENA can be prevented by limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, the researchers wrote.

Stronger climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are needed to avoid these heat-related mortality impacts, they added. 

The study acknowledged socio-economic inequalities within the region, affecting access to air conditioning.

“Even with stronger action, countries in the region need to develop ways other than air-conditioning to protect their citizens from the dangers of extreme heat,” said Shakoor Hajat, lead author and professor of global environmental health at LSHTM. 

Policy makers in countries within the region should look to alternative means of protecting their citizens from heat stress, such as the development of heat-health action plans and the strengthening of health systems, the study suggested 

Egypt, included in the analysis, hosted COP27 in 2022 and UAE will be hosting COP28 in Nov-Dec, 2023. So, when the countries in MENA region have been the centre of global attention for the flagship annual UN Climate conferences, this study is a call of action for stronger climate change mitigation and adaptation policies to be agreed at COP28 and beyond.

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