BAHRAIN faces serious climate change challenges on multiple fronts which will affect vulnerable groups, including migrant workers, the elderly exposed to health risks and farmers, according to a new report.

Problems such as extreme heat, dust storms and socioeconomic issues will also potentially impact the nation’s food security, said the document titled ‘Building a More Resilient Bahrain: An Integrated Approach to Climate Change, Socioeconomic, and Governance Challenges’.

The study, released by the Washington DC-based non-profit organisation Middle East Institute, says Bahrain will be placed under what it calls “environmental pressure”.

Written by Mohammed Mahmoud, the Climate and Water Programme director and a senior fellow at the institute, the research sheds light on projected climate impacts including increase in cost of residential water due to the region’s scarcity, and the perceived disconnect among the general population and the threat environment risk posed to the kingdom.

“Bahrain faces challenges on multiple fronts as it deals with various governance and socioeconomic issues as well as the growing impact of climate change,” states the report.

“Largely reliant on energy derived from oil and natural gas, the country contributes to global carbon emissions, exacerbating the climate crisis and placing the nation under environmental pressure.

“Bahrain is also experiencing heightened climate change impacts, including extreme heat, drought and dust storms, with projections indicating conditions will only get worse in the future.

“Rising sea levels threaten its coastal areas, while warmer oceans endanger fisheries and amplify extreme weather events.”

On April 15 and 16, Bahrain witnessed its second heaviest rainfall since records began, with a record average rainfall of 67.6mm.

This was just shy of the highest daily amount of rainfall ever recorded in the kingdom nearly 30 years ago on March 12, 1995 when an average of 67.9mm was recorded.

The study also documents the long history of recorded cyclones making landfall on the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula including in Oman and the UAE.

“Though the chances of Bahrain being in their direct path are very slim, the remnants of severe cyclones can result in intense rainfall and thunderstorms, leading to damaging floods.”

The analysis explains that extreme heat has plagued the region, with new record-breaking temperature highs in multiple countries around the Gulf and the Middle East occurring in the summer of 2021 and 2022.

Frequent dust storms are another form of extreme weather affecting the region, hitting it especially hard in early summer 2022. While these dust storms proved particularly severe for Iraq, Gulf countries were not spared either, along with the resulting degradation of air quality.

This is further worsened with a higher incidence of intense precipitation events causing devastating flooding events across the coastal Arabian Peninsula.

“For an island nation like Bahrain, this could be doubly adverse considering the potential risk of inland inundation,” the report warns.

It highlights that climate projections in the Gulf region suggest that current conditions will intensify in the future, presenting more complicated challenges:

Significantly higher number of days in the year when temperatures are above the long-term historical average.

Exposure to extreme heat conditions for extended periods brings with it the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke – medical conditions that can lead to death if left untreated.

There is a risk of salt water intrusion into Bahrain’s freshwater aquifers due to sea level rise.

Urban and densely populated areas will experience additional complexities associated with increased warming. One such complication is the urban heat island effect. This is when solar radiation and heat absorbed during the day in cities (due to the abundance of heat absorbing materials such as asphalt and concrete) radiates outwards at night, creating a “bubble” of warming that causes night time temperatures not to drop significantly from those during the day and thus offering no reprieve from the extreme heat.

The report highlights that due to the arid climate and limited water supplies, the kingdom imports about 94 per cent of its locally consumed food, and the only source of freshwater comes from underground aquifers, that is quite limited – “due to historical over-reliance and depletion”.

In addition, the effect of warming on agricultural food production will place added pressure on the country’s water-food-energy nexus, it states.

“Bahrain’s existing water supplies will be further taxed to meet this increased water demand – whether by depleting groundwater aquifers or through added desalination, further boosting energy usage.”

Bahrain generates most of its electricity from natural gas with a smaller amount coming from oil. To meet its water needs, the kingdom is highly dependent on coastal seawater desalination and, to a lesser extent, wastewater reuse.

Overall, Bahrain’s water supply portfolio is derived from groundwater (54 per cent), desalination (36pc) and treated wastewater (10pc), the report states.

“Countries with coastal communities, like Bahrain and most other Gulf states, will continue to see higher rates of relative humidity due to increased evaporation from warmer oceans that are absorbing more heat,” added the author.

Rising sea level continues to be the number one environment threat or challenge for Bahrain, which is surrounded by sea water.

“In the medium term, it threatens to submerge critical infrastructure like desalination plants and water treatment facilities, and encroach into residential and agricultural areas.

“In the long term, sea level rise, if left unmitigated, could completely submerge some island nations, including Bahrain.”

The research further highlights that certain population segments are especially vulnerable to climate change impacts during extreme weather events, and financially challenged communities will struggle with rising living costs.

It states that outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness given the amount of time they spend outside during the hottest part of the day while performing physically exerting jobs, like construction work.

However, indoor temperatures can also become unbearable without adequate cooling, putting more pressure on energy sources to meet elevated commercial and residential cooling requirements.

“There are several population segments in Bahrain that are distinctly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including communities that experience either a direct or secondary level of climate risk.

“When it comes to direct vulnerability, particularly to extreme heat, migrant workers are likely the most vulnerable group, as many of them work outdoors in occupations like construction, maintenance and public works.

“Considering Bahrain’s high temperatures and humidity, this public health predicament is very much a relevant issue for the kingdom.”

The findings shockingly also reveal that many of Bahrain’s older villages and urban areas that have poor residential structures will face damages due to extreme rainfall and flooding – even leaving the occupants homeless.

Another group directly vulnerable to climate change is the elderly who are more prone to experience respiratory issues and health distress due to climate change.

“This segment of the population experiences climate risk in all cases of extreme weather: extreme heat, intense precipitation events and frequent dust storms.

“There are about 51,000 people above the age of 65 in Bahrain, or around 3.5pc of the total population (based on latest World Bank data),” it mentions.

“The elderly are more susceptible to heat-related illness and death when temperatures rise to dangerous extremes, as evidenced by the number of older age related fatalities that occurred during the near-global heatwave of summer 2022 (e.g. more than 2,800 people aged 65 and older died in the UK).”

The research explains that communities in Bahrain will experience secondary climate risks through impacts to their economic well-being.

“As such, populations that are financially challenged will experience more hardships due to the rising cost of utilities linked to drought and warmer temperatures.”

This could result in locals forced to adjust their spending due to higher costs of utility and public services which will cause a shift in new housing construction, whereby smaller homes could be built as they require less water and electricity.

“The trend toward smaller homes may have an unintended cultural outcome, however, limiting Bahrainis’ ability to host larger family gatherings. Arab culture is steeped in hospitality and familial bonds; large families tend to be the norm and friends and families often congregate at homes for social visits, traditional events and religious holidays.”

Bahrain’s farmers are also listed among those who will suffer similar secondary climate risks associated with financial hardships due to climate change.

The rising costs of water and energy directly constrain farmers’ potential yield, translating into increased water pumping, transmission, and conveyance costs, in turn reducing farmers’ output and revenue margin or at worst putting them out of business altogether, the document adds.

The author praises the series of green initiatives undertaken by the government both directly and indirectly address the effects of climate change on aspects of governance and living conditions.

Bahrain aims to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2035, and to reach net zero in 2060, with the aim to achieve carbon neutrality through three tracks: low-carbon economy, climate change adaptation, and creating sustainable opportunities in a green economy.

A $750 million climate technology fund was launched, and the “Safa” carbon offsetting platform was also established.

A two-month mid-day outdoor work ban comes into effect next month between midday and 4pm. This was first introduced in 2007 to protect the country’s workforce from potentially fatal heat-related medical conditions.

“A future for Bahrain that is more climate resilient involves a framework of actions that is not necessarily wholly directed by the government and its various administrative arms.

“The reality is the government also requires engagement from Bahrain’s citizens and residents, as clearly demonstrated by some of the climate adaptive programmes that have been primarily initiated by enterprising and forward-looking Bahrain.

“And with climate change accelerating its impacts on Bahrain, there is no better time to embark on those opportunities than now,” the report concludes.


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