The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring, all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed.
In particular, the decreasing water availability poses a major threat to human and economic development in the MENA region. The agricultural sector as the main consumer – and one of the main employers – uses up to 90% of the water resources, however with very low efficiency.
Where rivers cross borders, as it is the case in the Nile Basin, along the Euphrates, Tigris and the Jordan River, disputes over distribution and use of the shared water resources could trigger conflicts between neighbouring states.
Climate change risks:
Global warming will likely further increase water stress. Climate change predictions, especially on the national and local level, are highly uncertain. Still, the overall trends for the region are clear:
The MENA governments are more and more aware of the pressing future challenges they face. In international climate change negotiations, the region opts for its right to develop its fossil fuel resources and to receive compensation for adverse economic impacts from mitigation as well as support in financing adequate adaptation measures. However, limited action has been taken so far on the national and regional levels. With regard to mitigation, plans for the development of large solar energy schemes exist in almost all Arab countries and have been put into practice to different degrees. While there is still a need to develop an integrated regional scheme for the development of renewable energy, the region is host to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and thus the major global clearing house in this respect.
Furthermore, civil society plays an important role in advancing environmental cooperation. Examples here are EcoPeace Friends of the Earth Middle East, but also broad multi-stakeholder coalitions such as the Arab Forum for Environment and Development.
In the water sector, adaptation measures have been brought forward on a regional level: the Arab Ministerial Water Council (AMWC) of the League of Arab States (LAS) launched a regional initiative fostering the development of methods to assess and map climate change impacts on water resources as a key entry point for planning successful adaptation measures. Additionally, the member countries of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) have clearly highlighted the need to strengthen cooperation for adaptation measures and to develop a basin-wide adaptation strategy.
Cairo Declaration 2nd Arab Water Forum 2011: Living with Water Scarcity.
Elasha, B.O. 2010: Mapping of Climate Change Threats and Human Development Impacts in the Arab Region. Arab Human Development Report Research Paper Series. UNDP.
German Advisory Body on Global Change (WGBU) 2008: Climate Change as a Security Risk. USA: Earthscan Publication Ltd.
Human Development Report 2007/2008: Climate shocks: risk and vulnerability in an unequal world. UNDP.
League of Arab States, General Secretariat 2007: The Arab Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change.
Nile Basin Initiative 2011: Climate Change and its implication for Sustainable Development and Cooperation in the Nile Basin. 3rd NBDF Conference Documentation.
Trondalen, J.M. 2009: The United Nations World Water Assessment Programme. Paris: UNESCO.
UNESCO 2012: The United Nations World Water Development Report 4, Volume 3. Paris: UNESCO.