Interpretation of the Effects of Climate Change in the Middle East

Climate Change, Dust Storms, Vulnerable Populations, and Health in the Middle East: A Review

Muge Akpinar-Elci, Brenda Berumen-Flucker, Hasan Bayram, Abdullah Al-Taiar

Summarized by Ethan Penner, who is a geology master’s student at Binghamton University. He graduated in May 2021 with a BS in geology and is currently working on a thesis concentrated on the tectonic geomorphology of the McGregor fault, located in east-central New York. After graduate school, he plans to apply to the USGS or look for environmental consulting positions and hopes to teach in the future. Some of his hobbies outside of geology include gardening, exercising, hiking and sight-seeing.

What data were used: The data that was used in this study includes articles detailing how climate change and climate variability impact the frequency and severity of dust storms, as opposed to the more common effects of increased sea level and global temperatures, worsening air pollution, and increasing extreme weather rates, on human health. The covered articles themselves deal with data ranging from dust and air samples to illness statistics.

Methods: The authors use a systematic review to determine how dust storms affect the Middle East and its populations and searched for literature on the topic through Google Scholar as well as MEDLINE/PubMed. Articles that were utilized were  published between 2008 and 2019, written in English, and had to be full texts from scientific journals. Their search involved the keywords of “Middle East,” as well as “dust storm” and “health.” They also included individual country names following their initial review of articles (ex. “Iran, dust storm, health”). Countries were identified using the U.S. CIA’s World Factbook. Defining the “Middle East region” is difficult since the official number of countries is not set and not all resources offer the same definition of the territories. Because of this detail, Egypt was included as a part of the Middle Eastern region by the authors. The reviews studied by the authors only discussed health conditions, health outcomes, or diseases that currently affect human populations, especially those that have a strong correlation with local dust storms in the predetermined Middle Eastern region. Not all articles involving dust were included, meaning that articles discussing volcanic activity or human-induced dust production were excluded since these do not have to do with the scope of the authors’ analysis. The articles that did discuss dust exposure or dust levels but did not consider the effects on human health were also excluded. The health of animal populations was not considered when reviewing articles. The main extraction process for the utilized articles involved a review of the title and abstract, and then a review of the full text to check eligibility.

Flowchart detailing the process of selecting, then screening, and finally including texts on dust storms for the analysis, where arrows lead towards the end goal of analysis unless a text is excluded for inadequate content and the number of articles under scrutiny becomes smaller
Figure 1 shows the authors’ method of interpreting whether articles on climate change are related to dust storms and health impacts, and the number of articles goes from 534 to 31 based on full-text availability, and then from 31 to 16 based on quality.

Results: In total, 534 articles were checked for eligibility, but only 31 matched the necessary criteria. Of these 31 articles, 15 were excluded because of a lack of clarity concerning the impacts of dust on human health and the use of animal subjects. Therefore, 16 of the articles were used in the study, most (10) of which focused on Iran. Two of the studies focused on Kuwait, one focused on Kuwait and Iraq, one focused on Turkey, and the final study focused on Israel. The subjects of the articles ranged from threats to human health resulting from dust composition to measurable health impacts attributable to dust storm events. Leski et. al (2011) focuses on airborne particles within collected dust samples from Kuwait and Iraq. Nourmoradi et al. (2015) deals with similar data from Iran, and both studies detected potentially hazardous airborne bacteria and fungi in the air samples. Alavi et al. (2014) details the relationship between dust and pulmonary tuberculosis and found that dust had the potential to impact TB relapse and treatment outcomes. Al-Hemoud et al. (2018) found that dust impacted respiratory diseases in humans, as well as morbidity. These are just a few of the articles that were analyzed in depth to understand a large range of data and impacts, and the overall conclusion from these texts is that dust particulates, often carrying harmful bacteria and fungi, in a region of increasing climate change leads to more severe health effects as more populations are exposed, leading to more people suffering from deadly diseases, more hospitalizations, and possibly even increased mortality.

Why is this study important? This study is vital to the conversation of climate change because it highlights the issue of dust storms, which many likely do not consider as a severe impact when compared to rising sea levels and temperatures. The hidden threats within the air and dust strewn around arid regions affected severely by climate change can cripple populations and drastically impact ways of life in the same ways as conventional ideas of climate change effects.

Overall, the authors discuss how more research should be conducted to understand the relationship between climate change, air pollution, dust storms, and health conditions. Comprehending the scope of the impacts can lead to faster and more efficient solutions to health crises across the Middle East, and further analysis of dust storms/air pollution can help scientists mitigate climate to the best of their abilities.

Citation: Akpinar-Elci, M., Berumen-Flucker, B., Bayram, H., & Al-Taiar, A. (2021). Climate Change, Dust Storms, Vulnerable Populations, and Health in the Middle East: A Review. Journal of Environmental Health, 84(3), 8-15.


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