MENA faces challenging future due to water shortage, conflicts
Prague - Climate change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which is increasingly hit by droughts and water shortages, is one of the most important issues to be addressed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.
“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,” Inger Andersen, director of the Sustainable Development Department in the World Bank’s MENA region, said in a statement.
“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.”
Bahrain, Kuwait, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon are listed by the World Resources Institute among the 33 countries likely to suffer stresses due to water shortages by 2040.
In 1950, per capita renewable water resources were four times greater than they are today, according to the World Bank. By 2050, there are indications that natural water resources in MENA will be 11 times less than the global average.
Climate and war
Among the reasons for Syria’s civil war was drought between 2006 and 2010 and dwindling water resources that caused a mass rural exodus to urban areas.
Water plays a huge part of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the 1967 war, Israel controlled the water resources of the West Bank’s mountain aquifer and the Sea of Galilee, which give Israel about 60% of its fresh water.
Israel and its illegal settlements exploit 80% of the aquifer’s flow. The situation hinders Palestinians’ agricultural economy.
Most of the region is expected to become hotter and drier, according to estimates from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Frequent droughts will clearly affect countries’ long-term plans to increase hydro-power capacity.
Soaring temperatures and dwindling rainfall will deplete groundwater resources. The droughts lead to more disease and losses in livestock, crop failures, air pollution and soil erosion.
Despite alarming levels of water scarcity, the region also suffers from floods.
Yemen’s 2008 floods caused damages worth $1.6 billion, an equivalent of 6% of the country’s gross domestic product. Saudi Arabia incurred losses of $1.4 billion in floods in Jeddah. In November 2014, Morocco was hit by heavy rainfall that damaged infrastructure and agriculture.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Countries in the MENA region are undergoing significant population increase. Growth will increase pressure to meet the rising demand for energy, natural resources and food. Consequently, greenhouse emissions will soar.
MENA is the world’s third largest regions for carbon emissions, according to the World Bank. The high carbon emissions are mainly from oil-producing countries.
Some MENA countries have drawn long-term strategies for renewable energy.
In 2008, Morocco launched the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Plan, which seeks to meet 42% of the country’s electricity needs from renewables by 2020.
Morocco has been dependent on imported fossil fuels for 98% of its energy needs. However, with the long Atlantic coast, vast Saharan desert and high mountains, Morocco is poised to become a leading renewable energy producer.
The Noor solar project in Ouarzazate is an example of Morocco’s ambitious clean energy projects. Once complete, the complex will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world. The first phase of the project is to be in operation in December.
Morocco has pledged to decrease CO2 emissions to 32% below business-as-usual by 2030, pending financial aid to reach its objective.
In 2013, Abu Dhabi opened the world’s largest CSP plant, which provides electricity to 20,000 homes. The Shams 1 project helps displace approximately 175,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, an equivalent to planting 1.5 million trees or taking 15,000 cars off the road.
Abu Dhabi energy company Masdar in 2014 announced it will build a 50-megawatt wind farm in Oman to provide 16,000 homes with clean energy. The $125 million project, in the south-western region of Dhofar, will diminish 110,000 tonnes of CO2 yearly.
Masdar is overseeing Abu Dhabi’s plans to generate 7% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. The company is building one of the world’s first zero-carbon cities, called Masdar City, on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
The desert city, projected to host 50,000 people, is to be powered entirely with renewable energy, including solar power and wind power.
MENA holds nearly half of the world’s renewable energy potential that has not been properly exploited.