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Water Is Focus of Climate Change in Middle East and North Africa

In the Middle East and North Africa climate change is an especially urgent issue, particularly in a region that experiences increasingly frequent droughts and a looming water supply shortage.  

MNA Climate Change Based on estimates from the UN’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment, most of the MENA region is expected to become hotter and drier.  Higher temperatures and reduced precipitation will increase the occurrence of droughts, an effect that is already materializing in the Maghreb, the western part of North Africa.

According to IPCC computer modeling, an estimated additional 80 million to 100 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2025, putting more pressure on already depleted groundwater resources. Climate models further project sea levels rising by over 0.5 meters by the end of the century would place low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, and Egypt at particular risk.  

For the MENA region, climate change is not a completely new phenomenon.  Throughout the ages, societies of the MENA region have been under pressure to adapt to water scarcity and heat, and have developed various technical solutions and institutional mechanisms to deal with these environmental constraints,” says Inger Andersen, Director of the Sustainable Development Department in the Bank’s MENA region. “However, the scale of impacts that are expected from climate change is likely to be beyond the coping range of many communities and countries, and will require additional adaptation efforts.”

MNA Climate ChangeIn terms of economic impact, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns may result in damage to tourism and other strategic economic sectors with growth potential such as high-value-added agriculture. A combination of adverse impacts could slow down the reform process in governments and economies and ultimately offset the benefits generated by high oil prices.


According to Raffaello Cervigni, Regional Coordinator for Climate Change, “MENA contributes relatively little to global emissions (less than 6 percent), but it is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts in strategic sectors such as agriculture, water resource management, and urban development.

“Reducing carbon emissions can generate important domestic benefits, such as improved air quality; but an equally important agenda for the region is to enhance its resilience to climate variability and climate change.”

How the World Bank Can Help?

While effective action to tackle climate change will depend on countries’ commitment, the Bank has a key role in supporting efforts to decrease climate vulnerability and to promote low-carbon growth.

Globally, the main thrust of efforts to slow down climate change is reducing carbon emissions – mainly through cleaner energy generation and by giving countries financial incentives to limit deforestation.  These efforts are called low-carbon growth.  In the Middle East and North Africa, the main issue is adapting to the impact of global climate change, which knows no national borders.  Low-carbon growth is a secondary strategy.

“Our overarching goal is to help countries ’mainstream’ adaptation and mitigation actions within their growth and development strategies,” says Inger Andersen. “On mitigation, we intend to encourage more efficient use of energy, and help MENA countries access the opportunities offered by the carbon markets. On adaptation, we will mobilize the resources and the knowledge needed to help countries in the region to climate-proof their development programs and projects.”

MNA Climate ChangeIn addition to supporting adaptation efforts through its pipeline of infrastructure projects (which will average $1.1 billion per annum over the next three years), the Bank is providing (in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Djibouti, and Yemen) knowledge and technical expertise for better analyzing likely impacts of climate change, and for designing least-cost adaptation interventions to minimize such impacts.

The Bank is also preparing a regional program for technical assistance on climate change adaptation and mitigation.  This knowledge initiative builds on the experience of the Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Program (METAP) and will serve as a vehicle to strengthen institutional capacity across the region.

Significant progress in adaptation can be achieved by improving the policy and incentive framework of regional governments. Fiscal reforms can encourage more efficient use of land, water, and energy resources, thereby promoting their allocation to more climate-resilient uses, and freeing up valuable public funds which could be used for protecting the most vulnerable social groups.

The World Bank will continue to work with its MENA clients to identify, analyze, and implement reform by mobilizing global knowledge and providing targeted financial support.


“The recent United Nations conference in Bali has added new momentum to efforts to reduce carbon emissions; but it has also put adaptation squarely into the international agenda” says Raffaello Cervigni.

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