07/30/2021, 10.45
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Climate change: al-Azhar's appeal and the risk of new conflicts

Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb calls for "serious action" to counter its effects. Floods and record heat are causing "hundreds of deaths and displaced persons". Emergencies in Iran, Iraq and Turkey. But there are not only environmental factors: corruption, mismanagement and exploitation of resources underpin the crisis. 

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Showing an ever stronger affinity with Pope Francis, first on interreligious dialogue and now on the environment, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb is calling for "serious action" to counter the devastating effects of climate change. The warning issued by one of the most authoritative figures in Sunni Islam is linked to the alarming news stories arriving from the region, from the protests against the water crisis in Iran to the devastating floods and fires that have hit Turkey in recent days, not to mention the torrid heat wave in Iraq.

In a message on Twitter, the imam of al-Azhar stressed that “the recent flooding and record rise in temperatures around the world, which have caused hundreds of deaths and displaced many more, should reinforce the need for serious action toward combatting climate change and safeguarding humanity from this undeniable threat.”

In recent days, several deaths and hundreds of people have been displaced by devastating floods in Turkey. In Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, temperatures reached 51.7 degrees Celsius. The effects of the heatwave have been aggravated by frequent power cuts, which are hampering the supply of cooling systems. In an attempt to stem the crisis, Saudi Arabia has announced a plan in recent weeks to plant 10 billion trees in a country where only 0.5% of the land is covered by forests. 

When (civil) war broke out in Syria in the spring of 2011, some Middle East observers and climate scientists also included drought and scarce water resources as key factors in the conflict. Dry spells in previous years had caused a collapse in agriculture in many northern and eastern parts of the country, prompting many families to migrate to the big cities and intensifying the fight for limited resources and jobs. 

The lack of water has been a propellant for many riots and social unrest in other nations in the region, including Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, due to both climate change and mismanagement of resources by their governments. Prolonged periods of drought, high temperatures and falling rainfall are a major factor, all linked to global warming. Analysts and scientists also point the finger at corruption and malfeasance, which they describe as 'key elements' of the problem.

Nik Kowsar, an Iranian-Canadian geologist, attacks those who speak only of climate change in the crisis that has hit the Islamic Republic. "Reducing the significance of the government's role in destroying water resources by mentioning drought/climate change first is absurd. This regime created this man-made drought,” he tweeted. And neighbouring Iraq is also struggling with "acute and chronic" water shortages, also linked to the construction of mega-dams on major rivers, which have led to losses of up to eight billion cubic metres of water a year". 

Iraq is among the nations in the area with the most abundant water reserves. However, the level of the Tigris and Euphrates has dropped by 40 per cent in recent decades, partly due to the activities of neighbouring countries, including Turkey and its power plants. In addition to this, scientists point out, there are rising temperatures and reduced rainfall due to climate change. The fear, experts conclude, is that the evolution of the crisis could trigger new conflicts between neighbouring countries competing for the same water resources, as is happening between Egypt and Ethiopia over a controversial dam on the Blue Nile. 

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