The Lebanese Frankenstorm: a climate change storm with man-made consequences

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Lebanon is on the fifth day of what seems to be one of the most hard-hitting storms in the area for a while. It is making its way from Russia and Ukraine with extreme winds, thunderstorms, rain and snow as low as 300 m above sea level. While storms usually start getting better as they hit their 3rd or 4th day, this one is expected to worsen on its 5th day and last about a week.

The consequences are apparent everywhere you go, from the flooded ‘autostrade’ to the drowning houses in every other street, to the erosion of lands in the mountains, the plains, the coast and the capital city. Monday and Tuesday have received their fair share of Lebanese-style jokes, criticism, complains, and pleas to the government. The media and news outlets have covered the situation to its varying degrees and its impact on different communities.

Admittedly, there are more than enough political, social, infrastructural and behavioral reasons that make this storm a big enough problem that literally drowned the country in a flood of water and insults. And I am not going to get into it. However, there were an apparent lack of mentioning climate change as a cause or even a potential cause of the worsening storms and their worsening impacts.

While snow is not particularly foreign to this part of the world, the intensity, frequency and severity of storms or lack thereof has been causing many social and economic impacts especially as far as agricultural production is concerned. Storms are like nothing people have seen before and while it is important not to confuse the global climate and local weather events, these events have become too common to ignore, especially as more and more studies are linking climate change to extreme weather events.

Perhaps, it is an exaggeration to expect that the Lebanese media will link storms to climate change in a country where the infrastructure is so weak that every time it rains it feels like a desert that hasn’t seen the rain in over a decade and was suddenly hit by a hurricane. After all, it took unprecedented and billions of dollars worth of damage for the media to link Hurricane Sandy to climate change.

And to be fair, addressing climate change is a little premature, when there are much bigger and more dangerous pollution problems, especially that, and I am not trying to let the government off the hook for climate action, Lebanon’s carbon footprint as a low-industrial economy is irrelevant compared to that of oil and tar mining countries. Not to mention, it is got a fairly low impact on the international political scene.

This is not to say, the government should not take leadership but it is really a lot to expect from a country where the general populace buys bottled water because there are no proper infrastructure or political will in place to channel drinking water to homes or to test it for that matter.

Despite all of that, climate change is no longer an issue that can afford to be ignored, especially that climate change’s impacts will be getting worse and are very unlikely to spare this region.

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