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Adaptation to Climate Change in the Middle East and North Africa Region

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is particularly vulnerable to climate change. It is one of the world’s most water-scarce and dry regions; with a high dependency on climate-sensitive agriculture and a large share of its population and economic activity in flood-prone urban coastal zones.  On the other hand, societies of this region have been under pressure to adapt to water scarcity and heat for thousands of years, and have developed various technical solutions and institutional mechanisms to deal with these environmental constraints. 


As such, MENA is a valuable repository of traditional and institutional knowledge, which, if preserved and made accessible, could prove an important contribution, globally, to efforts to address climate change. These are gaining new momentum in the aftermath of the recent Bali conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  In addition to setting out a roadmap for a new international agreement on the reduction of Greenhouse Gas emissions, the conference launched a series of initiatives to help countries adapt to climate change, including the activation of an “Adaptation Fund” to be entrusted to the World Bank, with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) operating as Secretariat of the Fund.


The MNA Climate Change Experience


An increasing level of awareness is building among all stakeholders in the MENA region on the significance of climate change, reflecting both the global increase in awareness of the phenomenon, as well as mounting concerns in the region about increasingly frequent droughts and a looming water supply shortage. While ultimately, effective adaptation to climate change will depend on countries’ commitment, the Bank has a key role to play in mainstreaming adaptation measures in MENA’s development agenda.


According to the latest IPCC assessment, the climate is predicted to become even hotter and drier in most of the MENA region.  Higher temperatures and reduced precipitation will increase the occurrence of droughts, an effect that is already materializing in the Maghreb. It is further estimated that an additional 80–100 million people will be exposed by 2025 to water stress, which is likely to result in increased pressure on groundwater resources, which are currently being extracted in most areas beyond the aquifers’ recharge potential.  In addition, agriculture yields, especially in rainfed areas, are expected to fluctuate more widely, ultimately falling to a significantly lower long-term average.  In urban areas in North Africa, a temperature increase of 1-3 degrees could expose 6–25 million people to coastal flooding. In addition, heat waves, an increased “heat island effect,” water scarcity, decreasing water quality, worsening air quality, and ground ozone formation are likely to affect public health, and more generally lead to challenging living conditions.


Global models predict sea levels rising from about 0.1 to 0.3 meters by the year 2050, and from about 0.1 to 0.9 meters by 2100.  For MENA, the social, economic, and ecological impacts are expected to be relatively higher compared to the rest of the world. Low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, and particularly Egypt are at particular risk. 


Impacts of Climate Change on Regional Development


Much of the progress so far achieved by countries in the region to tackle challenges of high unemployment and integration with the global economy can be jeopardized by climate change. Income and employment may be lost as a result of more frequent droughts in rural areas, and to floods and sea surges in urban and coastal areas. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns may result in damage to strategic economic sectors such as tourism or others with growth potential such as high-value-added agriculture. The combination of such impacts is likely to slow down the reform process and ultimately offset the growth benefits generated by high oil prices.


Climate change also poses many challenges to the region’s cities which represent hubs for economic, social, cultural and political activities. Rising sea level could affect 43 port cities—24 in the Middle East and 19 in North Africa. In case of Alexandria, Egypt, a 0.5 meter rise would leave more than 2 million people displaced, with $35 billion in losses in land, property, and infrastructure, as well as incalculable losses of historic and cultural assets.


How the World Bank Can Help?


For the two IDA countries in MNA; Yemen and Djibouti, the overriding challenge is to balance short term development priorities with action to reduce vulnerability to climate change in the longer term. For middle income countries, the dual challenge for governments and development partners is to mobilize promptly sufficient resources to minimize climate change impacts -especially on the more vulnerable social groups- as well as mainstream climate change in the reform agenda under way and modernize the provision of infrastructure services.


There are three broad areas of partnership where the World Bank and its MENA counterparts can make a dent in the adaptation agenda over the next decade. In all these areas, the Bank will work taking into account differences in country circumstances, in particular patterns of vulnerability and diverse ability to cope.


·         First, infrastructure investment. The World Banks has an annual pipeline of some $1.1 billion over the next three years. Projects will need to be sited, designed and implemented in ways that will minimize their vulnerability to climate change. In addition, enhancing climate resilience is likely to require scaling up of planned infrastructure investment in key sectors such as water resources and urban development, which in turn will necessitate additional resource mobilization from government, private sector, and the donor community, including the World Bank;

·         Second, knowledge strengthening. Adequate design of adaptation interventions will require better knowledge on the timing, location and magnitude of impacts; as well as identification of least-cost options to minimize such impacts. Building on the analytical work already under way in Morocco, Tunisia, Djibouti and Yemen, and drawing on a pool of global experience, the Bank will expand its support in the coming years to enhance MNA’s knowledge base to adapt to climate change. The Bank is currently preparing a regional program for technical assistance on climate change adaptation and mitigation.  The 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.

·         Third, policy reform. Significant progress in adaptation can be achieved by improving the policy and incentive framework. 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 these reform options, by mobilizing global knowledge and by providing targeted financial support.


Selected Project Examples:


Water Management and Adaptation to Climate Change in Morocco


The Oum Er Rbia River basin contains half of Morocco’s public irrigated agriculture and produces 60 percent of its sugar beets, 40 percent of its olives, and 40 percent of its milk.  For the past decade, lower-than-predicted rainfall patterns have reduced available irrigation water to about half the designed volume.  As a result, farmers are supplementing surface water by pumping groundwater, and aquifers are falling by up to 5 meters per year.  Uncertainty about irrigation water supplies is a major factor deterring farmers from switching to higher-value crops, and tensions over access to water resources are rising. 


The Moroccan government is working with the Bank to design ways to make irrigation in the basin more sustainable, more profitable, and more resilient to climate change.  The authorities will commit to providing a fixed amount of water to the farmers on an on-demand basis, so they have confidence that water will be available at exactly the time they require it.  The farmers will have to commit to not exceeding a fixed quantity of water consumption and will be sanctioned if they exceed this limit.  The project will subsidize localized irrigation equipment (drip, micro-sprinklers, etc.); promote private investment in post-harvest infrastructure; and help farmers link to domestic and international markets. 


Agriculture and Adaptation to a Changing Climate in Yemen


In Yemen, the poorest economy among the Arabian Peninsula countries, agriculture contributes more than 15 percent to GDP and employs more than 55 percent of the economically active population. Many of the poor derive their livelihoods and incomes exclusively from agriculture and agriculture-related activities.  Climate change is a real concern for Yemen, particularly should the frequency of precipitation events diminish, putting rainfed agriculture in peril. 


In the Yemen highlands, farmers have long traditions of agrobiodiversity farming practices and traditional knowledge. The Bank is currently supporting, with a combination of IBRD and GEF resources, the identification and implementation of coping strategies for adaptation to climate change for highland farmers who rely on rainfed agriculture. These strategies include the conservation and utilization of biodiversity important to agriculture (particularly the local land races and their wild relatives) and associated local traditional knowledge. The project will emphasize the conservation of agrobiodiversity and developing a range of coping mechanisms using predictive climate modeling.  


World Bank contacts for climate change work in the MENA Region:


Raffaello Cervigni

Regional Coordinator, Climate Change

Sustainable Development Sector Department (MNSSD)

Middle East and North Africa Region



Saliha Dobardzic

METAP Operations Officer

The World Bank

Sustainable Development Department

Middle East and North Africa Region

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