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Are residents of Kuwait at risk of becoming climate refugees?

Kuwait vulnerable to changing weather patterns

By Ghadeer Ghloum

KUWAIT: Kuwaitis are at risk of becoming climate refugees due to a variety of reasons. Kuwait is a small country with a limited number of resources, which makes it vulnerable to changing weather patterns and environmental degradation. The country has a dry desert climate with limited sources of freshwater and greenery. This puts Kuwaitis at risk of becoming environmental refugees, because Kuwait is expected to experience more extreme weather patterns such as rising temperatures and droughts if no serious and immediate action is taken.

Another significant issue is air pollution caused by the oil and gas industries that are prevalent in Kuwait. These industries are vital to the country’s economy, but they also release harmful chemicals into the air. Exposure to these toxins can lead to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer. As the population of Kuwait continues to grow, demand for energy will increase, leading to an increase in pollution unless alternative energy sources are implemented.

Mai Al-Nakib

Overpopulation can lead to overcrowded cities and lack of green spaces, exacerbating air pollution and creating potential health hazards. If the country does not implement sustainable measures to address these issues, it could lead to the displacement of its citizens. Therefore, it is essential to adopt practices that reduce carbon emissions, invest in renewable energy and protect natural resources for the sake of the country’s future and its people.

Calling for more attention to Kuwait’s environmental crisis, Kuwait Times interviewed Meteorologist Eisa Ramadan and Associate Professor at Kuwait University Mai Al-Nakib, who expressed concern regarding Kuwait’s unlivable environment and the risk of forced displacement. Nakib expressed her dissatisfaction and concerns. “Unfortunately, environmental awareness in Kuwait is sorely lacking and doesn’t seem to be on the agenda of politicians or citizens. Along with human rights, climate change should be the key issue addressed in every branch of government now,” she said.

“Environmental education needs to be integrated into the school system starting at the primary level through university in a consistent and dedicated way. As it stands, the dangers of pollution, the threat of climate change to the sustainability of life in Kuwait, the urgent need for recycling, among other environmental issues, are rarely broached. If attention does not shift and action is not taken immediately, it will be too late: Kuwait will be uninhabitable before long, forcing its citizens and residents to become climate refugees,” Nakib added.

On his part, Ramadan highlighted the urgency of the situation, as he said climate change and the rise in temperatures during summer have become increasingly evident over the last 20 years and particularly in the last 10 years. The temperature in Kuwait has started to exceed 50°C more frequently than it did in the past 50 years, indicating the phenomenon of global warming is already impacting Kuwait and nearby regions. This rise in temperatures has led people in Kuwait to travel to other countries during the summer season for many years now.

“However, the concern and all the worry is for the coming years if we do not adapt to these climate changes and there is a shortage in providing electricity to all the new areas that will be built in the future. If sufficient electricity is not available to meet the needs of citizens and residents, they will be forced to migrate if they do not have cooling and air conditioning, because the heat in Kuwait is becoming unbearable. Therefore, the coming years will be very difficult for Kuwait and the region during the summer season. Solutions must be put in place and adaptation must occur before it’s too late and this major problem becomes even more difficult to overcome in the future,” Ramadan said.

Factors that could lead to climate migration

Eisa Ramadan

According to Ramadan, the factors that can push residents of Kuwait to become environmental refugees include: A lack of suitable green environments to mitigate rising temperatures; severe drought during the summer season due to the continued presence of dry northwestern winds (Bawarih); insufficient water surfaces to cool the weather in the region, as three-quarters of the country is surrounded by dry desert, which increases the heat from the sun’s radiation in Kuwait; a lack of green cover in the city and desert areas; and the increase in thermal emissions from long-wave radiation, buildings, asphalt streets and red-colored tiles, which increase the absorption of solar radiation and emit heat at night. This creates continuous heat, which is known as the “heat island” phenomenon.

Ramadan shared some solutions for adaptation to climate change and mitigating its impact, as he suggested planting green belts in and outside the city in desert areas on very large scales to reduce rising temperatures. Regional collaboration with neighboring countries is recommended for planting desert areas there, changing the building pattern to intelligent, ecofriendly buildings by using special heat insulation and choosing reflective colors such as white for building exteriors, and creating suitable environments such as lakes in areas that can absorb large amounts of heat in Kuwait. Ramadan emphasized on the necessity of developing a roadmap and strategy for the implementation of such projects, as well as the age limit and duration for their implementation to alleviate high temperatures.

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