There is no doubt that the water crisis in the Arab region is influenced by a number of factors, including pollution, weak water management policies, as well as conflicts in some areas such as Syria and Yemen. The conflicts in turn restrict people's access to essential resources like water. However, unprecedented temperature rise and climate change are clearly affecting rainfall patterns, despite variations in rainfall percentage data in the region.
The Arab world is experiencing a rapid temperature increase at twice the global average. It is expected that temperatures will rise by two degrees from pre-industrial levels between 2021 and 2039, and could reach 5 degrees by 2050. This could make living in certain areas difficult and exacerbate the challenges faced by conflict-affected countries.
Global warming contributes to the rising temperature of the Earth, and this phenomenon is a result of the increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from industrial activities, with carbon dioxide being the leading contributor. Data indicates that carbon dioxide emissions are at their highest in 63 years, averaging 34 billion metric tons annually. While the region contributes only 3% to the total carbon dioxide emissions, studies suggest that the impacts of climate change will be severe in the region. The average temperature is expected to continue rising, even if global efforts succeed in stabilizing it at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Climate change poses a threat to water security. The accelerated rise in temperature has severe consequences, especially for vital sectors in the Arab world, with water security being a major concern. Except for Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, the region is witnessing a sharp decline in water security, with per capita renewable water resources falling below 500 cubic meters annually. The increase in Earth's average temperature leads to more water absorption in the atmosphere, which transforms into water vapor, escalating drought and increasingly frequent wildfires in the region.
Unprecedented temperature rise and climate change are now having a clear impact on rainfall patterns, despite variations in rainfall percentage data in the region. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that the Middle East and Central Asia are the most volatile compared to the rest of the world, contributing to the worsening water crisis. This crisis is considered one of the region's major threats, affecting food security, which consumes about 85% of water resources, as well as the energy, health, and sustainable development sectors in general.
Half of the agricultural land in the region is at risk due to declining agricultural productivity, resulting from soil's reduced water retention capacity, carbon storage, increased salinity, and erosion due to water scarcity and wind. This has led the region to increasingly rely on imports to secure food supplies.
Conflict-affected countries, such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, face heightened security vulnerabilities and instability, exacerbating humanitarian situations and presenting structural challenges for governments to adopt developmental and adaptive policies to cope with the growing impacts of climate change. For example, Yemen, where more than half of the population depends on sectors directly affected by climate change, such as agriculture, livestock farming, and fishing, has experienced an internal conflict for nine years. The inadequacy of basic resources like water and energy, coupled with a low standard of living, has contributed to igniting internal disturbances.
Similarly, the drought that hit Syrian lands between 2006 and 2009 was one of the factors that fueled internal conflict. This was due to the government's failure to address the drought problem and manage water resources, resulting in the death of livestock, crop failure, and an influx of displaced people into Syrian cities. Reports suggest that the drought occurred due to climate change, rising Earth temperatures, and weakened wind patterns resulting from increased greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming.
Financial Fragility in Climate Financing
Despite the direct impacts of climate change and the challenges it poses to the resilience of vulnerable communities, especially those experiencing prolonged conflicts and economically fragile countries, climate financing aimed at empowering developing economies to adapt to climate changes still falls short. According to estimates by 11 Arab countries under the Paris Agreement, the Arab region needs around $570 billion by 2030 to fulfill its climate financing needs, meet its climate goals, and support adaptation and mitigation projects.
However, the total international financing received by the region amounted to only $34.5 billion, representing just 6 percent. The distribution of funding was uneven among Arab countries, with six, including Egypt and Jordan, receiving about 92 percent of the financing.
In contrast, conflict-affected and economically fragile countries struggled to access financing. According to data from 27 climate financing funds, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq secured approval for only 19 projects with a total funding of $20.6 million, less than 0.5 percent of global climate adaptation financing.
Despite advanced countries committing to provide financial assistance to developing countries for climate adaptation, pledging to raise $100 billion annually according to the Paris Agreement in 2015, the financing mechanisms established after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are inflexible and often take the form of investment loans. This avoids risk in volatile environments and supports weak governments that may struggle with repayments.
During the past decade, total debt financing reached about $30 billion, exacerbating the external debt crisis in the Arab world, which has reached an unprecedented historical level of $1.4 trillion. This, alongside institutional complexities, does not accommodate the situation of fragile countries in urgent need of climate adaptation, further affecting their livelihoods due to the impacts of climate change that contribute to escalating conflicts.
The current situation underscores the urgent need to reconsider and develop the current climate financing strategy. Due to institutional weaknesses, only half of the Arab countries have been able to determine their financing needs, which is a fundamental requirement for receiving funding.
Raba Ajour, Director of Climate Change Studies at the Royal Scientific Society in Jordan, emphasizes the necessity of allocating funding to enhance the institutional capacities of Arab countries to identify their basic financing needs for adaptation and mitigation projects. She also highlights the need to enhance institutional capacities and facilitate access to climate funds, such as the Green Climate Fund.
The Arab region has only managed to secure 4 percent of the financing provided by climate funds, primarily due to complex and bureaucratic mechanisms that exceed the institutional capacities of many countries in the region.
Conflict-affected areas in the Arab world face an additional problem related to the risks that hinder access to climate financing that is not geared to handle risk environments. Ajour adds that humanitarian support alone in such environments does not provide sustainable solutions to structural problems that may exacerbate conflicts over resources, especially in the context of long-term conflicts like in Yemen and Syria. Thus, a comprehensive developmental and humanitarian approach is needed, integrating climate needs into response plans and adopting policies that facilitate access to financing for affected communities.
Will COP28 Lead to More Financing?
At the end of this month, the twenty-eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28) will be held in Dubai, where parties to the Paris Agreement will gather to discuss progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions and the necessary financing to address the impacts of climate change and build the resilience of communities.
The summit is expected to announce the results of the initial assessment and come up with serious and urgent recommendations. The technical report indicates that the world is still far from achieving the ambitious goals set in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The Arab delegation to the COP meeting includes all Arab countries, but they do not operate under equal conditions. Countries in conflict in the Arab region, such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, suffer from weak policies and are more in need of climate financing for adaptation. Sareen Gerges, Director of Environmental Programs at the Arab Reform Initiative, emphasizes that there is a responsibility on civil society, activists, and governments to press for transparent and clear financing policies and mechanisms.
Although it has been announced that the World Bank will manage funding for losses and damages, the financing mechanism, its distribution, and how affected countries will benefit are not clear yet. Observers emphasize that progress in negotiations on climate financing and the Loss and Damage Fund, in particular, announced at the previous summit in Sharm El Sheikh, is a key measure of the success of the summit.
This story was produced as part of the 2023 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in Arabic by Daraj Media on 21 November 2023.
Banner image: A stylized illustration of a water droplet / Credit: Daraj Media.