As the worldwide feast and celebration for Muslims around the world known as Eid wrapped up on Thursday evening, the Middle East has been trapped in a scorching heat wave.
The region—where 20% of the world’s Muslim population lives—has seen record-breaking heat this week. According to the Capital Weather Gang, Lebanon saw its highest temperature on record on Tuesday at 114 degrees Fahrenheit (45.6 degrees Celsius). Damascus, Syria’s capital, reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday, tying with its highest temperature on record. And even more shockingly, in Iraq on Tuesday, Baghdad’s temperatures rose above 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.7 degrees Celsius)—the city’s hottest temperature on record—and Basra shot above 127.4 Fahrenheit (53 degrees Celsius) on Monday and Tuesday. That narrowly missed the hottest temperature of Earth recorded this year, which was set earlier this month at Death Valley.
But the heat in the Middle East is blanketed heavily populated cities. It’s not just brief periods of unthinkable heat, either; temperatures in the region have stayed in the triple digits overnight, forcing millions to suffer under stifling conditions. Thankfully, the most extreme heat is subsiding. Temperatures are forecast to peak at an extremely comfortable [checks notes] 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius) in the coming days.
These mind-bending temperatures are linked to a “heat dome,” or an area of high atmospheric pressure, over the Red Sea that’s been moving westward. The dome has not only trapped hot air underneath it, but also eliminated cloud coverage from the sky to offer a bit of shade. The same phenomenon is what drove record heat in Death Valley earlier this month and has caused widespread intense heat across the rest of the U.S. (though admittedly it’s been nowhere near as intense as what the Middle East is dealing with this week).
Extreme heat is one of the hallmarks of the climate crisis, which is raising background temperatures and making heat waves more common and intense from the Siberia to Syria. While it may not seem as dramatic as other climate disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes, it’s the deadliest form of extreme weather on the planet. And though health experts recommend beating the heat by staying inside with the air conditioning cranked, for many throughout the region, that’s not an option. In Iraq, for instance, violent conflict in wake of the seemingly endless U.S. war on terror has ravaged the electricity grid.
Increased demand through the heat wave has left generators overwhelmed and had led to more frequent power shutoffs. Some Iraqis only get a few hours of electricity per day. Private generators are sometimes available, but they’re exorbitantly expensive to use and still provide limited power, Al Jazeera reported.
In Baghdad, protesters have taken to the streets in part due to frustrations over the lack of access to electricity amid the hellish temperatures. Earlier this week, security forces killed two demonstrators and injured nearly a dozen others.
As the climate crisis worsens, the Middle East is likely to see hotter summers. By midcentury, some parts of the region as well as Africa could be so hot that humans won’t be able to survive there. There’s also evidence that extreme heat and other weather events can also exacerbate war, which could make the situation in the conflict-ridden area even worse.
The heat wave provides yet more evidence that we need to draw down greenhouse gas emissions and kick fossil fuels to the curb. And since much conflict in the Middle East arises from competition over its oil reserves, that would be a win-win.