Vulnerable Arab World Lags On Climate Change Action
Author: Dina Zayed
Safari cars drive through the Black desert near the Bahariya Oasis, about 400 km (249 miles) southwest of Cairo February 20, 2010.
Photo: Asmaa Waguih
The Arab world will be one of the regions worst hit by climate change but still lacks any coordinated response to its potentially devastating effects, experts said at a conference this week.
With hotter, drier and less predictable climates, the amount of water running into the region's streams and rivers is set to fall 20 to 30 percent by 2050, worsening desertification and food insecurity, the United Nations Development Programme says.
Arab states, many rich in petroleum and grappling with fast-growing populations, lack the political will to act, experts said at the UNDP regional meeting that ended on Tuesday.
"They are leaving entire generations who will wake up and find a disaster on their hands that they will be completely unequipped to handle," Mostafa Tolba, former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told Reuters.
The region is home to six of the world's ten most water-scarce countries. Its citizens have access to an average of 1,000 cubic meters of water a year, a figure seven times below the world average and expected to shrink to 460 cubic meters by 2025.
Another looming concern for many countries in the region is rising sea waters that threat small-island states like Bahrain as well as natural and man-made islands in the Arabian Gulf.
RISING SEA WATERS
In Egypt, where over 50 percent of the population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast line, 6 to 8 million people could be displaced, said Mohamed El Raey, Executive Director of the Regional Center for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Egypt is already the world's biggest wheat importer and rising waters on its low-lying Nile Delta, where nearly half of the country's crops grow, could submerge or soak the land in salt water.
"Climate change will render many of our coastal zones redundant or obsolete," Shaden Abdel Gawad, president of Egypt's National Water Research Center, told the conference.
The prospective damage of rising sea waters could chip off 16 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product, the worst potential damage in the region, El Raey said, citing World Bank figures. Qatar and Tunisia follow closely behind.
Arab world greenhouse gas emissions are growing at one of the fastest rates in the world, with Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar the biggest emitters per capita, although the region only accounts for 5 percent of the world total.
Experts said climate change was on Arab government agendas but they called for measures to engage the private sector, saying the only way was to target the pockets of businesses.
"The entrepreneur and the economist need to see some revenue prospects from addressing climate change. Without them, nothing will happen," Tolba said.