Desertification threatens livelihoods and communities in the Middle East
December 2007 (IRIN) - Rising sea levels predicted as a result of global warming
could have severe environmental, economic and political implications for the
already water-stressed Middle East, a new study published on 10 December warns.
The report entitled Climate Change: A New Threat to Middle East Security, by the non-governmental organisation Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME), was presented at the annual UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia.
It believes climate change could act as a "threat multiplier", exacerbating water scarcity and tensions over water between nations linked by hydrological resources, geography and shared borders, particularly in Jordan, Gaza and Egypt.
"Poor and vulnerable populations, which exist in significant numbers throughout the region, will likely face the greatest risk", says the study.
The report refers to a series of scenarios set out by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and other organisations which indicate that a 0.5 metre rise in sea levels could displace 2 to 4 million Egyptians by 2050.
Rising sea levels would also contaminate the drinking water of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza due to sea water intrusion contaminating their only water source, the coastal aquifer, the FOEME report says.
"Economic unrest across the region, due to a decline in agricultural production from climate impacts on water resources, could also lead to greater political unrest, posing a threat to current regimes and, thereby, affecting internal and cross-border relations," it says.
Climate change for Jordan will mean no fresh water resources available for agriculture in the future, say activists. To counter this, the director of FOEME's Amman office, Munqeth Mehyar, has called on the Jordanian government "to assist rural communities in Jordan that are currently dependent on agriculture to diversify their income sources to rural tourism and small cottage industries".
"Government policies that continue to heavily subsidise water for agriculture are unsustainable and are preventing us from preparing for the inevitable," Mehyar said.
However gloomy the picture for the region appears, environmentalists also say that dealing with climate change, and recognising the looming crisis, may provide opportunities for local, cross-border and international cooperation: current problems projected to intensify could be overcome.
"Improving local demand and supply side water and energy management policies is essential and will only become more critical as the needs increase due to climate change", the report said.
The document also says third-party donor assistance will play an important role in facilitating adaptation in countries such as Egypt, Palestine and Jordan.
"US leadership is required to both prevent the worst impacts and to provide developing countries such as Jordan and Palestine with technical and financial assistance in adapting to climate change", Mehyar said.
"Being left unprepared will affect not only economic, physical, and environmental security, but national, regional, and global security, if actions are not taken now to mitigate, and adapt to the projected impacts of climate change," Palestinian Director of FOEME Nader Khatib concluded.
The annual UN Climate Change Conference, which started on 3 December with the participation of over 180 nations, ended on 14 December.
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