Report: Middle East, African Countries to Be Hardest Hit by Climate Change

(Photograph: WorldBank)

Report: Middle East, African Countries to Be Hardest Hit by Climate Change

'Climate change will increase the number of malnourished children substantially.'

Middle East and North African countries will be especially hard-hit by climate change and will struggle even harder to provide food and fresh water for their people, predicts a World Bank report released Wednesday.

The UN's Committee on World Food Security echoed those concerns Wednesday, presenting data at the UN climate conference (COP18) in Doha, Qatar.

"The poor are especially vulnerable. Climate change will increase the number of malnourished children substantially," said Gerald Nelson, a spokesman for the high-level panel of experts convened by the committee to report on food prospects in the coming 30 years.

To address the impact of global warming, the world will need to increase food production 75 to 90 percent to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive in 2050.

According to "Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries," the World Bank report (pdf), "For thousands of years, the people in Arab countries have coped with the challenges of climate variability by adapting their survival strategies to changes in rainfall and temperature. Their experience has contributed significantly to the global knowledge on climate change and adaptation. But over the next century global climatic variability is predicted to increase, and Arab countries may well experience unprecedented extremes in climate. Temperatures may reach new highs, and in most places there may be a risk of less rainfall. Under these circumstances, Arab countries and their citizens will once again need to draw on their long experience of adapting to the environment to address the new challenges posed by climate change."

Climate change has already begun in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the report states, citing as evidence the 2006 flooding of the Nile River Basin, a record five-year drought of the Jordan River Basin, and a 2010 cyclone in the Arabian Sea, the second-strongest on record.

That change, according to Inger Andersen, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa region, "affects everyone--especially the poor who are least able to adapt--and as the climate becomes ever more extreme, so will its impacts on people's livelihoods and wellbeing. The time to take actions at both the national and regional level in order to increase climate resilience is now."

Already contending with the least amount of fresh water in the world, the region's droughts from climate change "are expected to turn more extreme," with water runoff likely to decline and demand for water to increase by 60 percent by 2045, the report states.

Food prices are expected to increase dramatically as climate change worsens, with Oxfam research (pdf) suggesting the price of rice, maize and wheat could rise by up to 177 percent in the next 20 years.

"Extreme weather means extreme prices. Our failure to slash emissions presents a future of greater food price volatility with severe consequences for the precarious lives of the people in poverty," said Tracy Carty of Oxfam. "If developing countries are left alone to deal with the impacts of climate change, we are going to see millions of people lose their lands and livelihoods. Investing in the resilience of the poorest communities is not just a matter of justice, but a smart investment in a better collective future on this small planet."

Meanwhile, as the UN climate conference continues this week, representatives of poorer nations--many in Africa--continue to express frustration with the meager assistance offered by the US and other wealthier nations to help those less affluent.

"African negotiators are throwing their hands up in despair, and asking why they should even bother coming to the negotiations. Their cynicism is at its most stark in the agriculture negotiations," said Seyni Nafo, spokesman for the African group in the talks.

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