Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Recent scientific studies suggest that in 60 years the temperature and humidity in our region will reach 70 degrees Celsius; it will be impossible to live in the Arabian Peninsula.

Indeed, the presence of oil resources and air-conditioning technology changed our lives in the region, but the world is now a whole lot different than 2,000 years ago.

Before oil was discovered, there was no life in the peninsula due to its arid climate. To escape famine, people were accustomed to continual migrations to the Levant and East Africa. They were known as tough fighters living through invasions from foreigners, such as the Vikings in northern Europe, the Mongols in Central Asia, and indeed, al-Qaeda fighters today.

Arabian Peninsula tribes kept on migrating as “fighter tribes” for hundreds of years, before and after the advent of Islam, and they reached Europe and East Asia. Even after the advent of Islam, Arabs did not stay in the Peninsula. No caliph has lived in the Peninsula since the Umayyads and the Ottomans; they all left the peninsula to Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Granada and Istanbul, and established their kingdoms over a period of 1,300 years.

Life is still very harsh in this desert and almost impossible in some areas in the Peninsula, such as the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali), the largest contiguous sand desert in the world. Such areas remained uninhabited with the exception of a few nomads and oil companies operating in small settlements.
Harsh scenarios

In Riyadh, thirst is on the rise with an increasing number of inhabitants in the Saudi capital, the largest city in the peninsula. Riyadh’s population reached 6 million and in just 5 years, it is estimated to reach 11 million. This capital isn’t even ready to have 1 million extra inhabitants on its soil and using its waters. However, like the rest of the peninsula region, it thrives on the desalination of sea water, and its inhabitants only pay only 5 percent of the total cost of production and transfer – the government pays the remaining 95 per cent of the charges.

Without the high income from oil production, Riyadh and the rest of the region may not be able to survive a projected period in which scientists believe temperatures will rise and become unbearable by the end of the century.

The increase in the population of these hot and dry cities exceeds the abilities of their natural resources to be home to them – this is a common problem in the world. Cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles, drink from the water provided by the Colorado River, under an agreement held between seven U.S. states.

The situation is more difficult for the Peninsula’s populations due to temperatures rising every year and intensifying dust storms, which fill emergency rooms in hospitals with people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses. These people fall prey to the pharmacies and drug stores that are selling breathing aids at extremely high prices.

The inhabitants of this desert have no choice but to search for solutions, much like those living in the Arctic and like the Arabs during ancient times. I am currently following up the news of Abu Dhabi’s upcoming Masdar City, which will rely on on solar energy and other renewable energy sources, in the search for future solutions. The idea is to build a city without carbon dioxide, cars or exhausts, which are mainly the cause of rising temperature in the region.

I am also interested in science news and companies looking for solutions to water, irrigation and how to improve agriculture with small amounts of water. Scientists expect temperatures and humidity to rise in an unbearable way after 60 years, but we already know and feel that life is tough with the decreasing supplies of water.

We have no choice but to engage in scientific research and focus on studies about our local environment. In California, universities are teaching students how to design cities with hot weather under the old Arab architectural systems, where streets are narrow and daily life requires a minimal presence of cars. Maybe one day, universities in our region will decide to search for solutions that suit us.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 31, 2015.