The Panic-Inducing Habit of Naming ‘Storms’ in Lebanon

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Members of the Internal Security Forces cordone off a part of Beirut's corniche that has been heavily damaged by this week's winter storm. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Eva Shoufi

Published Friday, February 13, 2015

It is no longer possible for the media and state institutions in Lebanon to continue to deal with weather and climate issues in the same manner. The panic that accompanies every storm can be attributed to three factors: the reliance on people’s personal perceptions, the media’s superficial analyses of climate issues, and the “spectacular” approach of scientific institutions, which randomly name “storms” that are not actually storms.

It is very important to raise awareness among citizens about the climate phenomena taking place in the country, and to provide them with scientific explanations. These events, however, cannot be explained separately from the climate changes happening elsewhere in the world. Coping with these changes requires the adoption of decentralized policies, and a change in the habits of individuals, as recommended by experts in environmental and climate affairs.

Nadim Farjallah, research director of the Climate Change and Environment in the Arab World Program at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute, says that “what we have seen over the past few days is not exceptional. This storm comes each year for a period of 3 to 5 days.” He adds that the average wind speed has reached 40 kilometer per hour, which is high, but the exaggeration occurring today is unwarranted. He notes that the collapse of road, such as the Dbayeh highway, and uprooting of advertising billboards is due to poor infrastructure and the random distribution of billboards, not the “exceptional” storm.

Superficial analyses

In the past few years, Farajallah says storms have been dealt with in a superficial and unscientific manner. He points to the names given to each storm, explaining that “there are scientific criteria and characteristics for storm names, which should not be given randomly as is happening today in Lebanon, and which often cause panic among the people.” He notes that naming storms should be preceded by an assessment of wind speed, atmospheric pressure, air mass, and other factors, which is why names are only given to hurricanes and tropical storms, since climatic phenomena that are lighter than tropical storms are considered normal storms. He says that storm names are given by alphabetical order, with the first storm name beginning with the letter “A” and so forth.

Farajallah says that it is unacceptable to rely on people’s perceptions and draw conclusions without acknowledging the role of climate change. Claims that temperatures have dropped to unprecedented levels during the latest storm are inaccurate, he says, referring to the storms that hit Lebanon in 1992 and 1983.

These weather phenomena are related to global climate change, which directly affects Lebanon. The extreme and contradictory phenomena we are witnessing today, manifesting in the form of severe drought and floods, are the result of climate change.

According to Roland Riachi, postdoctoral fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, rainfall levels this year were not above average, but there were changes in the amount and distribution of rainfall, meaning heavy rainfall over short periods of time, which results in floods. In the early 1990s, Lebanon had 90 days of rain, compared to 65 days of rain today.

Farajallah says that in the last 100 years, the minimum temperature in Beirut has risen by 3 degrees Celsius, adding that the coming years will see a decrease in precipitation levels. According to Riachi, the government has sought to address the prospective drop in precipitation levels through the construction of dams, a policy he says “is wrong, because we expect to see many years of drought.” Riachi says that “our wealth lies in groundwater, but there are no control regulations in place to preserve this water and reduce water waste. In Lebanon, there are 80,000 private wells and only 650 public wells.”

Considering the government’s failure to adopt environmental policies to cope with the high temperatures, Farajallah recommends that people act on an individual basis. “The people need to change their habits as individuals, by reducing energy consumption, using solar lighting, importing cars that expend less energy, and promoting solar energy. Also, farmers should cultivate plants that need less water. These are a few things that can be done easily.”

Potential risks

The state is aware of the risks facing Lebanon as a result of climate change. Lebanon's second national report on climate change released in 2011 provided scenarios for the effects on various sectors of a temperature rise by one degree Celsius by 2040 and 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2090. According to the report, rainfall levels are expected to drop by 10-20 percent in 2040 and by 45 percent in 2090. Also, Beirut is expected to see an additional 50 days of high temperature by the end of the century, and there will be nine more days of drought across the country. Moreover, high temperatures will lead to a rise in electricity consumption by 1.8 percent in 2040 and 5.8 percent in 2090 as a result of increased demand for cooling.

The report says that dry areas like the Bekaa, Hermel, and the South will be most affected. The total volume of water resources will decrease by 6-8 percent in 2040 while the temperature will rise by 2 degrees Celsius. Further, snowfall levels are projected to fall by 70 percent in 2090, while floods will increase by 30 percent. These areas are expected to see 60 additional high temperature days.

The rise in temperature will not only impact agriculture, water, and electricity, but also public health. According to the report, mortality rates will rise by about 2,483-5,254 deaths per year between 2010 and 2030. A third national report, which is expected to be issued this year, will lay out the policies that should be adopted by the state to face these risks, in the hope that the government would handle the issue seriously and avoid disastrous results. A recent World Bank report titled “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal” says that Beirut and Riyadh will see the highest increase in temperature in the region.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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