ACCWAM - Water and Climate

Water and Climate

Water and Climate in the MENA Region

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is regularly cited as being the most water precarious region in the world.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) AQUASTAT database shows that in 2010, 16 of the 19 countries in the region had less that 1000 m3 of annual renewable water resources per capita, a standard index of water scarcity. 12 of these countries have annual renewable water resources of less than 500 m3 per capita, an index of absolute scarcity representing a significant challenge to human development (see Figure).



Rapid population growth has put further pressure on the already limited water resources. The majority of MENA countries face water demands that exceed the available renewable water resources. Climate change will further exacerbate the pressure on the scarce water resources.


Projected Climate Change 

Analyses of climate trends indicate that temperature has increased across the region since the 1950s. For the precipitation no clear trend could be stated which is also due to the region’s complex geography. Future projections are also influenced by uncertainties but studies combining GCMs and downscaled RCMs general assume a decrease of precipitation over the region by 2100. Precipitation is also expected to become more spatially and temporally variable.  Temperatures are generally projected to rise up to 4C by 2100.


Likely Impacts and Vulnerabilities 

Across the region the impacts of climate change are likely to exacerbate existing water deficits and pose new challenges.

Weather fluctuations in the region, which are already extreme, will amplify: an increase in periods of drought, heatwaves, heavy rains and storms is anticipated, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean region. Areas close to sea level, such as the Nile delta, will be affected by floods, erosion and soil salination caused by sea-level rise.  Regionally groundwater levels will continue to fallbecause of reduced recharge.

Areas under rainfed agriculture are likely to decline. Irrigated agriculture will face further pressure through increased evaporation and changed precipitation patterns.


These physical impacts of climate change will enforce socioeconomic vulnerabilities. A reduced mean water supply and increased precipitation variability will especially affect rural populations that rely on agricultural production and on small-scale water management networks.  Implications are also expected for the supply of drinking water, sanitation as well as for other sectors of the economy that depend on water as for example tourism and industry. Natural ecosystems which depend directly on water may change or disappear.

However, it is understood that different livelihood groups and different regions will experience specific impacts of climate change differently depending on their vulnerability and capacities. 


The need for Adaptation

In order to reduce harmful impacts or even create beneficial opportunities from the actual or anticipated climatic changes there is a need for adaptation to climate change. This includes adjustments in the natural and human systems which can be for example managerial, structural or technical.


Looking at the water sector in the region, adaptation to climate change is often hampered by a low level of capacity in the responsible ministries and authorities. Many institutions are poorly staffed, lack access to certain tools and methods while being confronted with multiple challenges. They face difficulties to address climate change pressures and the related uncertainties within structured planning processes.

Regional water governance

National and regional water governance is crucial for the sustainable management of water resources in the MENA region and the integration of climate change aspects.

The capacities of the national authorities, the significance and scope of the respective documents differ from country to country, with many of them being weak with regard to climate change adaptation.

For the water governance on the regional level the founding of the Arab Ministerial Council for Water (AMWC) under the League of Arab States in 2009 has been a major step towards more coordination and cooperation between the Arab states.  With the founding of the AMWC it was acknowledged that a response to the increasing challenges in the field of water, food security and climate change is needed. The work of the AMWC is guided by the Arab Strategy for Water Security which was drafted by the Arab Centre for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD). It was adopted in 2010 and presents a framework for joint action for 2010-2030.  Currently an Action Plan for its operationalization is under preparation with the support of ACCWaM. 



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