Climatic Change

, Volume 104, Issue 3, pp 599-627

First online:

Climate change, water resources, and the politics of adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa

  • Jeannie SowersAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of New Hampshire
  • , Avner VengoshAffiliated withDivision of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
  • , Erika WeinthalAffiliated withDivision of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Email author 

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Through an examination of global climate change models combined with hydrological data on deteriorating water quality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), we elucidate the ways in which the MENA countries are vulnerable to climate-induced impacts on water resources. Adaptive governance strategies, however, remain a low priority for political leaderships in the MENA region. To date, most MENA governments have concentrated the bulk of their resources on large-scale supply side projects such as desalination, dam construction, inter-basin water transfers, tapping fossil groundwater aquifers, and importing virtual water. Because managing water demand, improving the efficiency of water use, and promoting conservation will be key ingredients in responding to climate-induced impacts on the water sector, we analyze the political, economic, and institutional drivers that have shaped governance responses. While the scholarly literature emphasizes the importance of social capital to adaptive governance, we find that many political leaders and water experts in the MENA rarely engage societal actors in considering water risks. We conclude that the key capacities for adaptive governance to water scarcity in MENA are underdeveloped.