The increased incidence in 2003 of immense dust and sandstorms, as well
as floods, heatwaves and forest fires in West Asia may indicate long-term
environmental change. Countries are, however, taking measures to improve
coping capacity in terms of natural disasters.
Seven years of severe droughts in West Asia came to an end in 2002–2003
with record rainfall. Heavy rain flooded rivers, wadis and agricultural
areas in Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Syria and Saudi Arabia. There were other
extreme weather related events:
heaviest snowstorm since 1950 swept across the Eastern Mediterranean
on 25 February, cutting power and closing highways and schools in
Lebanon, Jordan and Syria (NOAA 2003a, BBC Weather 2003);
thunderstorms on 14 April produced torrential rains and flash flooding
in the northern part of the country, leaving 14 dead, and causing
extensive damage to property (Gulf News 2003);
southwest of the capital city of Muscat, 66 mm of rain fell in one
day, which is more than double the normal rainfall received in the
entire month of April (NOAA 2003b);
Makka area in western Saudi Arabia, flooding from the heaviest rain
in 25 years caused 12 fatalities and 50 injuries (Al-watan 2003);
intense floods occurred across the kingdom during December, disrupting
power supplies and telephone services; destroying farms, greenhouses,
and buildings; and killing a large number of domestic animals (Civil
Overall, the rains in West Asia were far more severe than had been
anticipated, and the region was ill-prepared to deal with the impacts.
Human lives were lost, and fish farms, large areas of agricultural land,
and irrigation networks were destroyed.
Severe dust and sandstorms were frequent in 2003, affecting large areas
(Figure 2) and increasing the risk of respiratory, eye and skin diseases.
West Asia was no exception to the heatwave which affected many other
parts of the world during the year, the third hottest year in more than
150 years (WMO 2003). Although high temperatures are common, heatwaves
of up to five degrees Celsius higher than normal swept across the region
(NOAA 2003b). Even the GCC countries, usually well-prepared for the
heat, had problems with power systems, and cases of heat-related illnesses
and deaths were reported around the region.
Forest fires were also associated with weather patterns in
West Asia. Lightning ignited forest fires in Saudi Arabia, along
the Syrian-Turkish borders, and also in Syria (NASA 2003). In
August, fires broke out in many parts of Lebanon, during a heatwave,
destroying pine forests in the Shweifat area near the capital,
and pines and other trees in the north (Alyaum 2003).
|Figure 2: Satellite images of sandstorms
in West Asia in 2003. Images were taken over Iraq (April 16)
and Saudi Arabia (March 27).
Source: MODIS Rapid Response Project at NASA/GSFC