Kuwait is facing a wide range of climate change challenges including sea level rise, water scarcity, desertification and loss of diversity. Kuwait is characterized by high temperature, high humidity and arid lands resulting in seriously degraded soil and land damage in addition to salt intrusion in the aquifers affecting the small scale agricultural lands thus enhancing the food security threat in the region. Since 1975, Kuwait has experienced 1.50C to 20C increase in temperature, which is significantly higher than the global average. In recent years, there has been a sharp change in rainfall pattern in Kuwait which may be attributed to climate change impacts. In addition, there has been marked increase in dust storms in last few decades which are noticeable signs of change in climatic conditions in Kuwait and neighbouring nations.
Rise in Sea Level
One of the main climate change impacts is sea level rise on coastal areas of all Arabian Gulf states. Kuwait is highly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise as it could lead to severe impacts on industrial and socio-economic development. Climate change-induced sea level rise may lead to flooding of low-lying urban infrastructure, inundation of coastal ecosystems and deterioration of groundwater quality. Inundation will severely affect cities, roads, agricultural areas, as well as beaches and salt marshes across Kuwait. Among the most vulnerable sites in Kuwait are Bubyan Island, Qaruh Island and Al-Khiran which are in real danger of disappearance on account of any potential sea level rise.
Continued use of non-renewable water is major factor in depleting groundwater reserves in Kuwait and put it a serious risk of climate change impacts. Being a highly water-scarce country, Kuwait is heavily dependent on desalinated water and fresh groundwater to meet drinking water needs. On a per capita basis, Kuwait has one of the highest per capita water consumption worldwide, apart from having world’s highest per capita production of desalination water. Water resource management is huge challenge for Kuwait as its per capita natural water availability is lowest in the world. With climate change, it is expected that balancing water supply and water demand will become an even greater challenge.
Kuwait is endowed with rich biodiversity of terrestrial flora and fauna, however the potential loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity due to climate change is a major concern in Kuwait. Desert areas contain many species of annuals, which make up about 90% of plant species of Kuwait. Kuwait is also endowed with rich marine biodiversity. Many endemic species can be found including crabs, which are found on biota-rich inter-tidal Sabkha zones. An increase in seawater temperature will affect the reproduction period of fish and shrimp and may result in large-scale migration of fish to other areas which will have serious repercussions for the fish industry in Kuwait and neighbouring countries. Erratic rainfall and sand encroachment may lead to loss in plant cover thereby causing runoff and flooding.
Agriculture production is directly dependent on climate change and weather. The possible changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2 concentration are expected to significant impact on crop growth. The potential of agricultural development in Kuwait is very limited, as less than 1% of the land area is considered arable. Moreover, only a portion of arable land area is actually cultivated due to a hyper-arid climate, water scarcity, poor soils, and lack of technical skills. Because of the nature of the terrain and water scarcity, it is quite difficult to put new land into agricultural production. Interestingly, agriculture consumes around one-third of groundwater but account for less than 5 percent of the GDP.
Kuwait is both physically and biologically threatened by the climate change phenomenon. Over the next few decades, Kuwait could be potentially facing serious impacts of global warming in the form of floods, droughts, depletion of aquifers, inundation of coastal areas, frequent sandstorms, loss of biodiversity, significant damage to ecosystem, threat to agricultural production and outbreak of diseases. There is an urgent need to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, adopt renewable energy systems and prepare a strong framework for socio-economic development which may be sustainable in the long-run.
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I always like to stress the adverse effects of climate change, as well as the need to protect the ozone layer. Kuwait is a perfect illustration of how economic and social activities can be hampered if positive measures are not taken to readdress the situation.