Climate Change and Water Management in the MENA Region

By: Allison Hart 

Climate change in the Middle East and North Africa region poses a serious threat to water security and human habitability in the region which will increase in coming decades. The severity of climate change in the MENA region calls for widespread governmental cooperation due to existing exploitative water management procedures. Implementing new water management procedures requires reforms that strengthen climate change cooperation that will allow for these procedures, will prevent mass migration and will combat the growing climate change issues.

Scarcity of Water Resources

The Middle East and North Africa region is very sensitive to water scarcity which is cause for concern and cause for action.  Existing water supplies are being depleted rapidly by the increased use of water and they are unable to be replenished fast enough to meet growing demand. The increasing demands for water are causing serious problems in many regions of the world that are unable to meet these demands.  This is causing states to exploit their resources further aggravating the problem.  Added pressures such as rising population and higher demands for water formed by new habits such as bathing more often and using water for more superficial desires is contribute to water scarcity.  Global food production, energy production, and health provisions are amongst those that are affected both directly and indirectly through climate change.  

In an area of the world where water security is both severe and precarious, the Middle East and North Africa regions have water resources of less than 1,000 m per capita in nine out of 14 countries By 2025 due to population growth it is expected that the Middle East’s average annual renewable resources will have fallen to 667 m3 per capita.  For perspective, the world average annual renewable water resources are expected to be 4,680 m3 per capita. These projections indicate that there will be significant water shortages for most states in the region.

Problems are exacerbated by rapid demographic development and economic development contributing to water scarcity and the uneven distribution of water in the region. At the present time the only other state in the Middle East that seems to have a sufficient amount of water resources appears to be Iraq and Turkey because of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. However, Iraq’s water resources are severely threatened by Turkish projects on the Tigris and Euphrates River which will significantly threaten to reduce Iraq’s water supplies, two-thirds of those water resources are from rivers that flow from Turkey creating a situation requiring regional water management. Annual average rainfall varies in each country from 94 in Jordan to 827 in Lebanon, and thus provides a baseline, however, this does not account for increased capacity potential through wastewater reuse or desalination.

In the Middle Eastern region, agricultural water demand accounts for 84% of the water usage in the region and ranges from 30 – 88% of water usage in individual countries.  Continuing to tap into groundwater aquifers at this rate is unsustainable.  If Middle Eastern states do not continue to develop non-conventional water resources both their water availability and quality in the region will decline.  Some nonconventional water resources include wastewater reclamation, surplus winter runoff, and seawater or brackish water desalination as well as several other options.

The United Nations rising temperatures, desertification, erosion, rising sea levels, and drought will cause an estimated 250 million people in Africa are to suffer from water scarcity threatening areas from Nigeria to Morocco that are along the axis. By 2025 rainfall reductions as high as 10 % – 25 % will be seen in the most agriculture-dependent areas in northern parts of Morocco and Algeria. The northern coasts of Morocco and Algeria are also threatened by saltwater intrusion and rising sea levels.

By obtaining climate data is able to represents various assumptions one is able to assess impacts on hydrologic regimes.   These projection period models of measurement include GHG (Greenhouse Gas), GCMs (General Circulation Models), and RCMs (Regional Climate Models).

Mass Migration

In 2008 foreign policy chief of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, forewarned that climate change would cause a mass migration from Africa to Europe.  Climate change is threatening regional security. Particularly nations that lack sufficient resources and the governance to effective water management policies themselves will be amongst those that are affected the most.  Current migration from places such as Syria and Libya have been prompted by civil war.  Predicted mass migration patterns due to climate change will increase the number of migrants, thereby exacerbating the current problem.

Many migrants believe that the reason they left their home was due to economic reasons, but deeper investigation reveals that climate change is helping to create the economic situations that are causing them to leave. Changing rainfall patterns and temperatures are a byproduct of climate change.This predicts changes that will lead to  reduced agricultural production which in turn, leads to greater competition for resources like food and water, thus contributing further to the instability and higher number of migrants. International leaders are going to face climate change driven crisis as well as demographic pressures.  This will force them to mobilise resources at such levels that are generally reserved for more traditional competition between nation-states.

The US Department of Defense, as well as intelligence agencies reports and simulations all conclude that in coming decades, the Middle East is amongst the most vulnerable regions due to the price spikes, food shortages, as well as the massive flooding that the region will face due to climate change. The United Nations is amongst the few organizations that consistently draws attention to the issue of climate change.  Foreign policy makers have been made aware and alarm has been raised, but still there is still a tendency to focus on the symptoms instead of the causes.

Conclusion: Ways to Improve Climate Change Efforts

The effectiveness of water management ultimately depends on cross-governmental cooperation with the Middle East to set up the infrastructure to prevent mass migration and provide sufficient water for needs of growing populations. An example of effective water management is in Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates and is completely powered by renewable energy  Unfortunately as of yet such infrastructure does not exist widespread throughout the Middle East region.

To improve climate change efforts by setting up infrastructure for with cross governmental cooperation through wastewater reclamation, surplus winter runoff, and seawater or brackish water desalination are just some of the ways to combat the effects of climate change. It is in the best interest of non-Middle Eastern states to cooperated to secure water supplies.  These efforts would result in states being able to provide themselves with water stability in the region. It is in the best interest of non-Middle Eastern states to cooperate to prevent mass migration and instability due to water scarcity.

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