Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Climate Change in the Levant and Socio Economic Impacts

In addition to a multitude of very serious challenges, the Levant is also plagued by climate change. Chances are when we here about the region known as the Levant it is in connection with Islamist fighters known as ISIS/ISIL or authoritarian regimes like that Bashar al Assad in Syria. However, climate change may prove to be an even more pernicious tyrant. Many reports predict that the Levant region is highly vulnerable to climate change, particularly as it applies to water scarcity. One such report is titled, "Freshwater vulnerability in the Levant region."

The Levant, also known as the Eastern Mediterranean, is a geographic and cultural region consisting of the eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt. The Levant today consists of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria, and part of southern Turkey. This area is already suffering from climate change and water scarcity in particular.

Climate change impacts are compounded by weak governments and fragile economies. Like many parts of the Arab world, population growth is placing even greater demands on resources that are already severely strained.

Climate change sets in motion or compounds a vicious cycle where population growth, water scarcity, diminished agricultural yields all come together to make life very difficult. Add to the mix military conflicts and self interested political partisanship and you have a recipe for disaster.

One of the world's leading experts on climate change impacts in the Levant region is Dr Hamed Assaf. He holds a PhD. in Civil Engineering, specializing in water resources. In 2009, he led a workshop titled, "Climate Change, Water and the Policy Making Process in the Levant and North Africa." He was also the Lead the writer of the water chapter in the World Bank’s "Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Region: A Climate Change Flagship Progress Report." The findings of the report were incorporated into IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

Assaf and others have predicted that water scarcity in the region will have a cascade of socio-economic impacts. In light of inefficient irrigation techniques, agricultural self sufficiency will be made almost impossible in a world ravaged by climate change. The interrelated chain of water scarcity, increasing food insecurity and poverty could also exacerbate social tension and lead to conflict.

The Levant region is already forced to import much of the food it consumes and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this situation is destined to get far worse. The entire Arab world is expected to get even hotter and drier.

According to a number of general circulation models (GCMs) the Levant region will be severely impacted by climate change. This is expected to cause extreme water scarcity. Research by the Arab Development and Environment Forum the Levant states will see further reductions of water ranging between 15 and 50 percent in countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. The Nile is expected to see its flow diminish by 40-60 percent and it there will likely be droughts with increasing frequency and intensity.

More heat, less rain, expanded desertification and urban expansion will come together to diminish agricultural lands. This will in turn drive up the price of produce. Countries like Jordan and Syria are already dependent on water from outside their own borders.

As reviewed in a report by Mohammed El Raey sea level rise is a major concern for Arab countries. Rising sea levels could contaminate aquifers on which the people of Gaza depend (the situation in the Palestinian territories is further compounded by Israel's stringent control of water resources). Sea level rises could also cause salt intrusions into Iraq and Lebanon.

Climate change impacts on coastal communities will be widespread and include the areas of agriculture, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries. Lebanon will be among the worst hit as its largest cities are coastal and they account most of the countries primary economic activities (commercial, financial, industrial, agricultural, fishing and tourism).

While more research is required to better understand and manage the situation, it is difficult for economically disadvantaged and weak governments to conduct such research, particularly amidst sectarian strife and war.

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