Middle East and North Africa

Emerging challenges: climate and conflict

Middle East and North Africa - Dimensions of food security

Predicted warming in the MENA region, combined with the high likelihood of overall declines in precipitation, makes the region particularly vulnerable to climate change. Projections also suggest that climate will cause world food prices to rise with negative effects on food security. For example, a recent IFPRI publication for Syria shows that global and local effects of climate change are also expected to have long term effects on economy-wide growth and the incomes of both rural and urban households.

IFPRI’s Climate CASE Maps are a customized tool for climate change impact assessments at the country level.

Water scarcity may also exacerbate conflicts in a region that already exhibits the highest number and intensity of conflicts in the world. Evidence shows that countries in political transition (such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya) are often at the highest risk of entering conflict. Two important interlinked research questions that need to be answered in this context are: what are the major causes of conflicts in Arab countries? And, what measures can rectify these causes?

Climate change heightens people’s general vulnerability (by impacting food, water, ecosystems, and livelihoods), increases their risk of not being efficiently prepared for disasters, and diminishes the authorities’ ability to better protect the population from imminent disasters. Aside from causing an increase in prices for traded agricultural commodities, on which the region particularly relies, climate change is also expected to cause declines in crop yields, due to higher temperatures and changes in precipitation. Depressed food demand translates directly into increases in malnutrition levels, with often permanent consequences for young children. Climate change is in fact expected to raise the number of malnourished children in both 2025 and 2050. Reducing vulnerability to climate change and variability – especially in the agricultural sector – will require implementing general economic development initiatives, mainstreaming climate change in agricultural policies and investments, and preparing for the effects of climate change through risk-sharing and risk-reducing investments. The MENA region already exhibits the highest number and intensity of conflicts in the world. In the context of the Arab Spring, pessismists frequently point to experiences from Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, where power vacuums have often led to an increase in civil wars led by armed groups (Kaldor 2006, Duffield 2001). The more optimistic view points to new opportunities that emerge from the fall of authoritarian regimes, including unique momentum for political and economic reforms.