Najib Saab. 16/5/2024

The original copy of this commentary is published today, 16 May, as opinion in An-Nahar newspaper. (

Will the spring floods that hit some Arab countries serve as a reminder of the power of nature and the inevitability of respecting its rules? This question became obvious after the rainstorms that recently struck countries in the Gulf, claiming casualties besides massive damage to infrastructure. The flood happened two days after an article of mine, entitled “Defying Nature Can Buy Time but Does not Save the Environment,” was published in a leading pan-Arab daily, and which some construed as being skeptical of development policies in the region. However, while my column clearly indicated that the ambition for change, development, and progress is legitimate, emphasizing that respecting nature does not mean submitting to it, it also warned against policies built on the unsustainable approach of subjugating nature and manipulating its laws.

The magnitude of the disaster and the huge losses it caused embarrassed those skeptical of climate change. While some suddenly remembered climate change to use as an excuse to evade responsibility for policy failures, others with a vision benefited from the experience to expedite plans that prepare the infrastructure and buildings, to face extreme fluctuations in weather conditions that the whole world is witnessing at a larger scale. The difference is that what used to happen every fifty or hundred years is happening today at a faster pace and on a bigger scale due to climate change. The water deluge did not stop with floods in the UAE and Oman, as heavy rains drenched vast areas in other Gulf countries, and did not spare the Levant and Morocco. It also reached Lebanon, whose roads turned into lakes, while its people lack regular freshwater supply, while the artificial lakes dried up, as dams were built in inappropriate locations, causing water to leak. These were not isolated events, as heavy rains in recent months struck several countries around the world, the latest of which claimed hundreds of lives in Kenya.

I had warned in my pre-flood column that turning clouds into mirrors that reflect sunlight, cloud-seeding to trigger artificial rain, sprinkling artificial snow on skiing slopes, and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere using expensive processes, may be a temporary solution to extend the unsustainable human activities for an additional period. But they are all just buying time, as only drastic measures that can stop climate change at manageable limits can face the challenge and prevent the disaster. Let’s not forget that the continued delay in adhering to commitments to limit the increase in temperature above 1.5 degrees is what necessitated the pursuit of temporary solutions, based on intervention to modify climate systems. But this does not substitute reducing emissions and taking serious measures for adaptation, to deal with the impacts that cannot be stopped.

This time, the relationship between artificial cloud seeding, which is based on spraying chemicals into clouds, and the rainstorms that struck the Gulf, was not scientifically proven, and whose impact was more severe in Oman and the UAE. Science has confirmed that these are extreme weather fluctuations, exacerbated by climate change that is affecting the entire world. For more than fifty years, scientists have warned that climate change will cause severe phenomena, which may occur on two extremes: sudden torrential floods in one place and drought in another.

Many lessons could be learned from what happened, the most important of which is that climate change is a current reality not science fiction for the future. Those who addressed climate challenges as being a conspiracy against developing –and oil producing- countries in order to prevent them from achieving rapid development were proven wrong, in addition to the fact that these countries themselves are the most affected by climate change. The second lesson is that it is necessary to be prepared to confront the effects of climate change that cannot be stopped, especially by making modifications to the infrastructure, such as road, sewage, water and electricity networks, in addition to strictly regulating land-use and building laws. The third and most important lesson is the precautionary principle, to avoid all that might disrupt the balance of nature, as impacts cannot be controlled indefinitely. Continuing to challenge nature systems could lead to losing control at any moment, as a result of an error or miscalculation.

Those cheering for the momentary outpouring of rain in dry areas due to climate change, as a beneficial phenomenon for some countries, all the way to promising that deserts will turn into “green meadows”, are making a big mistake. The reality is that sudden and occasional violent rainstorms do not benefit agriculture, but rather destroy it; what is required is a balanced and stable climate system. Therefore, officials must take climate change seriously, instead of using it selectively to cover up errors in some policies and excessive development programs.

Natural disasters caused by extreme weather conditions occur periodically, with or without climate change, and we must be prepared to deal with them. It is not permissible, for instance, to block the natural courses of floods, which were formed over thousands of years, by constructing roads and buildings above them, as happens in many cases. Nature created these drain routes to deal with the torrential floods that came at extended intervals in the past, and became more frequent due to climate change. Another problem is that the vast areas covered with cement and asphalt in cities prevent rain from seeping into the ground when it falls heavily, which leads to the flooding of drainage networks that are not originally prepared for emergency situations. The splendor of high-rise buildings above ground did not prevent the leakage of excess polluted sewage into the water tanks beneath them in some modern cities, leading to the spread of disease among the population.

Human intervention to modify nature systems may have consequences that cannot be predicted or controlled. The only sustainable option remains to modify consumption patterns, manage natural resources wisely, and respect the limits of nature rather than challenge them. Greening arid desert lands is good, but under conditions that balance its benefits with its impact on scarce water supplies. Desalination of seawater fills some of the fresh water deficit, but within limits that prevent disturbance to nature. The expansion of urban development at a mega-scale is a legitimate ambition, provided that it respects the carrying capacity of natural systems and maintains the sustainability and regeneration of resources. The most important rule is that appropriate ground-level infrastructure must go hand in hand with the mega- structures above ground- and reaching the sky.

These are some of the conditions that must be adhered to in planning and development programs. Those in charge must also carry out their basic duties, instead of using climate change as an excuse to cover shortcomings, and only remembering it when it suits them.