In light of an escalating pattern of intense heat waves, the Middle East is bracing for an alarming increase in heat-related deaths. Despite existing gaps in public health planning, experts suggest that the region’s adaptability to extreme heat could offer invaluable insights for other parts of the globe.

On the occasion when Iraq’s temperatures threaten to exceed a searing 50 degrees Celsius, locals are granted a holiday and advised to remain indoors, according to Kholoud al-Amiry, founder of a Baghdad-based network for female journalists focusing on climate change. She noted, however, that local adaptation is largely self-driven due to perceived governmental neglect.

This neglect is especially concerning given the susceptibility of the Middle East’s population to extreme heat. According to recent research in Nature Sustainability, the majority of Middle Eastern inhabitants could face exposure to extreme heat by 2050 if global temperatures exceed a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise over the next 50 years.

Another paper published in The Lancet earlier this year warned that heat-related deaths in the Middle East and North Africa could rise from the current average of about two per 100,000 people annually to approximately 123 per 100,000 in the final two decades of the century. This equates to a likely 138,000 heat-related fatalities every year in Iraq alone by 2100.

These studies also highlighted the increased vulnerability of the ageing population and city dwellers to the deleterious effects of heat. By 2100, older people will outnumber the young in the region, and by the 2050s, nearly 70% of the population is expected to reside in major cities. Cities are particularly prone to high temperatures due to the urban heat island effect, caused by denser buildings, heat-absorbing asphalt streets, and a lack of greenery.

Eleni Myrivili, the global chief heat officer for UN Habitat, highlighted the urgent need for governments to increase awareness, preparedness, and resilience against this threat.

Despite most Middle Eastern countries passing laws on sustainable development and environmental protection, a comprehensive plan to address the long-term health effects of climate change remains elusive. This deficiency is especially evident in the lack of heat action plans, which could include government-run cooling centres, educational campaigns about heat safety, and urban tree planting initiatives.

The wealth divide in the region also influences adaptive capabilities. For instance, air conditioning can shield vulnerable populations in wealthier nations, such as the Gulf states, but it is not a feasible solution in poorer nations or for those unable to afford it.

However, there is also potential to learn from the region’s long history of adapting to high temperatures. Sylvia Bergh, a professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, highlighted the Middle East’s centuries-old strategies for dealing with water scarcity and hot climate, including “wind catcher” towers, irrigation tunnels, and screens instead of walls.

Moving forward, Myrivili and Bergh both believe local and urban authorities have a key role to play in raising awareness, increasing preparedness, and redesigning urban environments.

Researchers of The Lancet’s recent study also proposed that limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels could prevent over 80% of the projected heat-related deaths in the Middle East. This simpler, yet daunting proposition underscores the critical need for international cooperation in addressing climate change.

Image Credit: Mariam Soliman / Unsplash

Millions of fish have been found dead along the banks of the river in Iraq’s southern province of Maysan, prompting concerns of a serious ecological disaster. The resulting scene is a direct consequence of a significant surge in salinity and pollution, which can be traced back to the region’s chronic shortage of freshwater resources.

According to Ahmed Salih Nima, an environmental activist, the primary reason for the mass death of fish is the dwindling water supply from the Tigris River. The Tigris River has historically fed smaller rivers and canals in various parts of the province, helping to maintain a balanced aquatic ecosystem.

“As water supplies decline, the oxygen levels drop while the salinity rate increases. This shift in balance leads to a rise in pH levels, resulting in the death of millions of fish,” Nima explained. “Regular replenishment of freshwater in these rivers and canals is crucial to prevent temperature increases, oxygen depletion and salinity spikes.”

The Al Mijar Al Kabeer district and surrounding areas, previously brimming with aquatic life and a crucial source of income for locals, now starkly resemble a graveyard. Dead fish now carpet the riverbanks as far as the eye can see. This calamity has had a catastrophic impact on the local fishing community and businesses it supports, with boats now unable to ply the once-bustling waterways.

“Ninety per cent of the local population depend on fishing. With the fish now gone, this has affected everyone from fishermen to associated businesses like ice sellers, boat repairers, truck drivers, and wholesale and retail traders,” Nima noted. Not to forget the cattle breeders who have relied on these rivers for generations, and who now find themselves in dire straits.

Dr Bassim Oraibi, the General Director of Maysan Veterinary Hospital, revealed that the oxygen content in the water has fallen to a mere 25 per cent of the minimum requirement. Pollution levels have soared, with industrial waste, untreated sewage, and agricultural run-off making the water toxic, decimating aquatic life.

While the immediate disaster is severe, it’s the long-term environmental consequences that have scientists and environmentalists worried. The river’s rising salinity levels, exacerbated by drought and overuse of water resources, coupled with uncontrolled pollution, suggest the perfect storm of environmental neglect and climate change.

These findings have led to an urgent call for immediate action. Environmentalists and concerned citizens are urging the government to restore freshwater supplies and implement stringent pollution control measures. More than ever, there’s a pressing need for robust waste management systems and sustainable agricultural practices.

Once known as Mesopotamia or the Land Between the Two Rivers, Iraq finds itself in the grips of an escalating water crisis, worsened by climate change, mismanagement, and pollution. Today, the United Nations classifies it as the fifth most vulnerable country globally to climate change.

With an ongoing water crisis that has been worsening for decades, 39 per cent of the country is affected by desertification, and 54 per cent of its agricultural land has been degraded, primarily due to soil salinity.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Iraq’s main water sources accounting for over 90 per cent of the country’s freshwater reserves, have been on a significant decline. Construction of dams and water diversion upstream in Turkey and Iran has only added to the crisis, leaving downstream nations like Iraq in a tight spot.

Nima warns that the issue could escalate across Maysan province unless immediate and effective measures are implemented. “The environment in Maysan will drastically worsen over the next fortnight, and we’re likely to lose more fish in other areas,” he cautions.

Image Credit: NASA on Unplash

The UAE Moon Mission’s ambitious journey into the cosmos is taking another giant leap as Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, announces a second attempt to land a rover on the Moon, aptly named the Rashid 2. This resolute decision comes after the UAE’s Rashid rover encountered a misfortune during its previous lunar landing attempt.

The road to the stars

The Emirates Lunar Mission (ELM), headed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), embarked on an audacious quest on the 11th of December, 2022. The Rashid Rover was integrated into Japan’s ispace Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, and lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force, Florida. This marked the UAE’s first Moon mission and made it the first Arab nation to venture towards the lunar surface.

The Rashid Rover, named after Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, a key figure in Dubai’s transformation, was a technological marvel. Touted as the world’s most compact rover, it weighed approximately 10 kilograms, and was engineered to explore the Moon’s surface with a bespoke configuration.

Equipped with two high-resolution cameras, a microscopic camera, and a thermal imaging camera, the rover was intended to study the lunar surface and the mobility on the Moon’s surface. Additionally, the Langmuir probe was designed to analyse the Moon’s plasma, giving insight into the mystifying stickiness of Moon dust.

The collaboration between MBRSC and ispace was a monumental one. The MBRSC partnered with 10 international and four UAE-based entities for the Emirates Lunar Mission’s science programme. Moreover, close to 40 scientists and researchers were involved in the development of the main instruments on board the Rashid Rover.

Unfortunately, the Hakuto-R lander lost contact just seconds before its attempted landing on 25th April 2023, culminating in the crash of the spacecraft into the Moon.

UAE Moon Mission: learning and rising

Sheikh Mohammed, during a visit to the MBRSC, reaffirmed the UAE’s commitment to continue with its space exploration endeavours. “Emiratis have proved their ability to develop advanced space projects and rapidly create a vibrant national space sector,” he said. “The UAE built a space sector from scratch within just 10 years. The Rashid Rover mission was driven by the country’s ambitious vision for space exploration.”

Dubai’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, stressed that the essence of space missions is managing risks through scientific and systematic approaches, pushing the boundaries of exploration and experimentation. He echoed Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s sentiment, stating, “The biggest risk in life is not taking any risk.”

Rashid 2: a renewed hope

Sheikh Hamdan announced the inception of the Rashid 2 project, marking the UAE’s renewed determination to reach the Moon. Under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, this second UAE moon mission reflects an unwavering spirit, one that accepts setbacks as stepping stones.

The UAE’s trailblazing venture into lunar exploration epitomises the nation’s unwavering resolve to be a leader in space science. With the second attempt now in the pipeline, the world watches with eager anticipation.

Image Credit Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Twitter account

A verdant wonder in the Arabian forests

The Arabian Peninsula, a region known for its vast deserts, is also home to lush jungles and forests, where a hidden gem lies nestled amongst the foliage. This gem is the Yemen Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), an arboreal lizard whose kaleidoscopic colours and peculiar behaviours make it one of the most fascinating creatures in the Middle East.

The abode in the canopy: a life above the ground

Yemen Chameleons, also referred to as cone-head chameleons or veiled chameleons, are predominantly found in the jungles of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They lead a quintessentially arboreal existence, spending the majority of their lives clinging to branches and swaying gently. This subtle swaying mimics the movements of leaves in the wind, allowing the chameleon to blend in with its environment exquisitely.

Polychromatic prowess: The art of changing hues

One of the most intriguing attributes of the Yemen Chameleon is its ability to change colours. However, contrary to popular belief, this is not primarily for camouflage. The hues of a Yemen Chameleon’s skin reflect its emotional state and physiological conditions. When basking in the warmth and feeling content, the chameleon boasts vibrant shades. In contrast, cooler temperatures or stress cause the colours to dim, and dark spots may emerge. During the breeding season, males flaunt vivid colours to entice females, while gravid females display dark markings.

A dichotomy in size and lifespan: males vs. females

In the world of Yemen Chameleons, sexual dimorphism is striking. Males are significantly larger than their female counterparts and exhibit more elaborate patterns in shades of blue, teal, yellow, and green along their abdomen and tail. In addition to the size, there is a substantial difference in lifespan between the sexes. Males live almost twice as long, with an average lifespan of 7-8 years, compared to the females’ typical 3-4 years.

Nature’s sniper: the chameleon’s hunting techniques

Yemen Chameleons are astute hunters. With their unique eyes that can move independently, they have a 360-degree view of their surroundings. They remain almost statuesque, blending in with their perch as they await their prey. Once an unsuspecting insect comes into range, the chameleon’s tongue, which can be as long as its body, shoots out at lightning speed to capture the prey.

An arboreal treasure worth protecting

The Yemen Chameleon represents a spectacular blend of beauty, adaptability, and mystery. Its enthralling lifestyle and ability to paint itself in myriad colours make it an invaluable treasure of the Arabian Peninsula’s jungles. As the world continues to face environmental challenges, it is vital that we safeguard these delicate ecosystems and the enchanting creatures like the Yemen Chameleon that call them home.

Image Credit: Oleksandr Kuzmin on Unsplash

A new study says that today’s sharks couldn’t eat a creature as big as a killer whale in just five bites, as an ancient shark once did.

Researchers used fossil evidence to create a 3D model of the megalodon, one of the largest predatory fish of all time, for a study published Wednesday.

The megalodon measured between 50 and 60 feet (15 and 18 metres) from nose to tail, making it about two to three times the size of a great white shark (Science Daily, 2018). Its enormous jaws allowed it to consume large prey, and after it had eaten, it could wander the oceans for weeks at a time, according to the researchers.

Its average cruising speed was faster than sharks today and it could have migrated across multiple oceans with ease, they calculated.

John Hutchinson, who studies the evolution of animal movement at England’s Royal Veterinary College, described the superpredator as being so dominant that “there is nothing really matching it.”

Scientists have had difficulty piecing together a detailed picture of the megalodon, according to study co-author Catalina Pimiento, a paleobiologist at the University of Zurich and Swansea University in Wales.

Because soft cartilage does not fossilize well, Pimiento said, the scientists relied on a limited number of specimens, including a rare set of vertebrae that has been housed at a Belgian museum since the 1860s.

Scientists also included a set of megalodon teeth, each as big as a human fist, according to Hutchinson. Modern great white sharks were scanned to flesh out the rest.

A team of scientists used digital modelling to estimate that the megalodon weighed about 70 tons, roughly the same as 10 elephants.

According to Pimiento, megalodon may have eaten other high-level predators, since its jaw was capable of opening to almost 6 feet (2 meters) wide.

Megalodons lived between 23 million and 2.6 million years ago.

Because megalodon fossils are rare, these kinds of models require a “leap of imagination,” said Michael Gottfried, a paleontologist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. Based on what is known about the giant shark, he said the study’s findings are reasonable.


Picture by Marcelo Cidrack