Climatic Change

, Volume 104, Issue 3–4, pp 599–627 | Cite as

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



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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abderrahman WA (2001) Water demand management in Saudi Arabia. In: Faruqui NI, Biswas AK, Bino MJ (eds) Water management in Islam. IDRC, Ottawa and UNU Press, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  2. Achthoven TV, Merabet Z, Shalaby K, Van Steenbergen F (2004) Balancing productivity and environmental pressure in Egypt. Agriculture and Rural Development Working Paper No 13, World BankGoogle Scholar
  3. Adger WN (2003) Social capital, collective action, and adaptation to climate change. Econ Geogr 79(4):387–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Adger WN, Huq S, Brown K, Conway D, Hulme M (2003) Adaptation to climate change in the developing world. Prog Dev Stud 3(3):179–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Akkad D (2009) Severe drought affects 1.3 million in Syria. Christ Sci Monit, 18 September, p 6Google Scholar
  6. Al-Kharabsheh A (2000) Ground-water modelling and long-term management of the Azraq basin as an example of arid area conditions (Jordan). J Arid Environ 44(2):143–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Allan JA (1997) Virtual water: a long term solution for water short Middle Eastern economies? Occasional Paper 3, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Allan JA (2001) The Middle East water question: hydropolitics and the global economy. I.B. Tauris, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Alpert P, Krichak SO, Shafir H, Haim D, Osetinsky I (2008) Climatic trends to extremes employing regional modeling and statistical interpretation over the Eastern Mediterranean. Glob Planet Change 63:163–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Arnell NW (1999) Climate change and global water resources. Glob Environ Change 9:S31–S49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Assaf H (2008) Climate change in the Levant and North Africa region: an assessment of implications for water resources, regional state of awareness and preparedness, and the road ahead. Presented at the climate change, water and, the policy-making process in the Levant and North Africa, Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut, 4 August 2009Google Scholar
  12. Auty RM (2001) The political state and the management of mineral rents in capital surplus economies: Botswana and Saudi Arabia. Resour Policy 27:77–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ayeb H (2002) Hydraulic politics: the Nile and Egypt’s water use: a crisis for the twenty first century? In: Bush R (ed) Counter-revolution in Egypt’s countryside. Zed Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Bajjali W, Al-Hadidi K (2005) Hydrochemical evaluation of groundwater in Azraq Basin, Jordan using environmental isotopes and GIS techniques. In: 25th annual ESRI international user conference, San Diego, California, 25–29 July 2005.
  15. Bazza M, Najib R (2003) Towards improved water demand management in agriculture in the Syrian Arab Republic. FAO: first national symposium on management and rationalization of water resources use in agriculture organized by the University of Damascus, 28–29 AprilGoogle Scholar
  16. Bouchaou L, Michelot JL, Vengosh A, Hsissou Y, Qurtobi M, Gaye CB, Bullen TD, Zuppi GM (2008) Application of multiple isotopic and geochemical tracers for investigation of recharge, salinization, and residence time of water in the Souss-Massa aquifer, Southwest of Morocco. J Hydrol 352:267–287Google Scholar
  17. Bou-Zeid E, El Fadel M (2002) Climate change and water resources in Lebanon and the Middle East. J Water Resour Plan Manage 128:343–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown O, Crawford A (2009) Rising temperatures, rising tensions climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East. International Institute for Sustainable DevelopmentGoogle Scholar
  19. Center for Environment and Development in the Arab World (CEDARE) (2005) Status of integrated water resources management in the Arab Region. UNDP and the Arab Water Council, CairoGoogle Scholar
  20. Cline R (2007) Global warming and agriculture: impact estimates by country. Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  21. Conway D (2005) From headwater tributaries to international river: observing and adapting to climate variability and change in the Nile Basin. Glob Environ Change 15(2):99–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Conway D, Hulme M (1996) The impacts of climate variability and climate change in the Nile Basin on future water resources in Egypt. Water Resour Dev 12(3):277–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cullen H, Haggard S, Magaloni B (2009) Grievance and opportunity: food prices, political regime, and protest. Paper presented at the international studies association’s annual meeting, New York, NY, 15 FebruaryGoogle Scholar
  24. Das Gupta S, LaPlante B, Meisner C, Yan J (2007) Impact of sea level rise on developing countries: a comparative study. Policy Res Work Pap 4136. World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  25. De Rosa DA (1997) Agricultural trade and rural development in the Middle East and North Africa: recent developments and North Africa. Policy Res Work Pap 1732. World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  26. De-Shalit A (1995) From the political to the objective: the dialectics of zionism and the environment. Environ Pol 4(1):70–87Google Scholar
  27. Dietz T, Ostrom E, Stern PC (2003) The struggle to govern the commons. Science 302:1907–1912CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Economist (2008) Buying the farm: Saudi Arabia. Econ 388(8594):39Google Scholar
  29. Economist (2009a) Green shoots. Econ 390(8623):67–68Google Scholar
  30. Economist (2009b) Petrodollars v smallholders. Econ 391(8628):48Google Scholar
  31. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (2008) Climate change in ESCWA region: reasons for concern, Arab league meeting, Damascus, Syria, 13–15 April 2008Google Scholar
  32. Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (1999) Initial national communication on climate change for the United Nations framework convention on climate change. CairoGoogle Scholar
  33. Eid H, El-Marsafawy SM, Ouda SA (2007) Assessing the economic impacts of climate change on agriculture in Egypt. Pol Res Work Pap. The World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  34. Elarabawy M, Tosswell P (1998) An appraisal of the Southern Valley Development Project in Egypt. J Water Supply Res Technol AQUA 47(4):167–185Google Scholar
  35. Elarabawy M, Attia B et al (2000) Integrated water resources management for Egypt. J Water Supply Res Technol AQUA 49(3):111–125Google Scholar
  36. Elhadj E (2008) Saudi Arabia’s agricultural project: from dust to dust. Middle East Rev Int Aff 12(2):29–37Google Scholar
  37. Elmusa S, Sowers J (2009) Damietta mobilizes for its environment. Middle East Report Online. Accessed 21 October 2009
  38. El Raey M (2008) Impact of climate change on the Nile Delta region. Paper presented at climate change in Egypt conference, Cairo, 11 NovemberGoogle Scholar
  39. Evans P (1996) State–society synergy. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  40. Evans G (2008a) Conflict potential in a world of climate change. Address to Bucerius Summer School on Global Governance Berlin, 29 AugustGoogle Scholar
  41. Evans JP (2008b) 21st century climate change in the Middle East. Clim Change 92:417–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Evans JP (2009) Global warming impact on the dominant precipitation processes in the Middle East. Theor Appl Climatol, Published online 19 MayGoogle Scholar
  43. Fahmy N (2002) Politics of Egypt: state–society relationship. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  44. Falkenmark M (1986) Fresh water—time for a modified approach. Ambio 15(4):192–200Google Scholar
  45. Farber E, Vengosh A, Gavrieli I, Marie A, Bullen TD, Mayer B, Holtzman R, Segal M, Shavit U (2004) The origin and mechanisms of salinization of the Lower Jordan River. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 68:1989–2006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Fayyad M (2009) Current status of climate change research and policy in the Levant. Presented at “Climate change, water and the policy-making process in the Levant and North Africa,” American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, 4 August 2009Google Scholar
  47. Fischhendler I (2008) Institutional conditions for IWRM: the Israeli case. Ground Water 46(1):91–102Google Scholar
  48. Food and Agriculture Organization (2005) Fertilizer use in Egypt.
  49. Ford N (2003) Tapping into Libyan resources. Middle East 332:50Google Scholar
  50. Gao X, Giorgi F (2008) Increased aridity in the Mediterranean region under greenhouse gas forcing estimated from high resolution simulations with a regional climate model. Glob Planet Change 62:195–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. GLOWA (2009) GLOWA Jordan River, phase II final report: an integrated approach to sustainable management of water resources under global change.
  52. Gorenflo A, Brusilovsky M, Faigon M, Liberman B (2007) High pH operation in seawater reverse osmosis permeate: first results from the world’s largest SWRO plant in Ashkelon. Desalination 203:82–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Gvirtzman H, Garven G, Gvirtzman G (1997) Hydrogeological modeling of the saline hot springs at the Sea of Galilee, Israel. Water Res Res 33(5):913–926CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Hopkins N, Mehanna S, el Haggar S (2001) People and pollution: cultural constructions and social action in Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, EgyptGoogle Scholar
  55. Inbar Y (2007) New standards for treated wastewater reuse in Israel. Wastewater reuse—risk assessment, decision-making and environmental security. NATO Security through Science Series. Springer, The Netherlands, pp 291–296Google Scholar
  56. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  57. Jaber JO, Mohsen MS (2001) Evaluation of non-conventional water resources supply in Jordan. Desalination 136:83–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Kandil HM (2003) Institutional reform vision for the irrigation sector in Egypt. Water Resour Dev 19(2):221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kasinof L (2009) At heart of Yemen’s conflicts: water crisis. Christ Sci Monit, 5 November, p 6Google Scholar
  60. Kassem M (2004) Egyptian politics: the dynamics of authoritarian rule. Lynne Rienner Publishers, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  61. Khalil M (1998) Azmat al-miyah fi al-Sharq al-Awsat wa-al-amn al-qawmi al-`Arabi wa al-Misri (The water crisis in the Middle East and Arab and Egyptian National Security). al-Tab`ah 1. ed. al-Maktabah al-Akadimiyah, al-QahirahGoogle Scholar
  62. Kreimer A, Arnold M, Carlin A (2003) Building safer cities: the future of disaster risk. World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  63. Kronenberg G (2004) The largest SWRO plant in the world—Ashkelon 100 million m(3)/y BOT project. Desalination 166:457–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Lahav O, Birnhack L (2007) Quality criteria for desalinated water following post-treatment. Desalination 207:286–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Lemos MC, Agrawal A (2006) Environmental governance. Annu Rev Environ Resour 31:297–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Lloyd JW, Pim RH (1990) The hydrogeology and groundwater resources development of the Cambro-Ordovician sandstone aquifer in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. J Hydrol 121:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Marie A, Vengosh A (2001) Sources of salinity in groundwater from Jericho area, Jordan valley. Ground Water 39:240–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Mashru` al-nahr al-sina`i al-`azim (The Great Man-Made River Project) (1989) [Tripoli]: Jihaz Tanfidh wa-Idarat Mashru` al-nahr al-Sina`i al-`Azim, Amanat al-Lajnah al Sha`biyah al-`Ammah lil-Istislah al Zira`i wa-Ta‘mir al-Aradi, Libya: TripoliGoogle Scholar
  69. Miller JE (2003) Review of water resources and desalination technologies. Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NMCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Milly PCD, Dunne KA, Vecchia AV (2005) Global pattern of trends in stream flow and water availability in a changing climate. Nature 438:347–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mimi Z, Mason M, Zeitoun M (2009) Climate change: impacts, adaptations and policy-making process: Palestine as a case study, Presented at “climate change, water, and the policy-making process in the Levant and North Africa,” American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, 4 August 2009Google Scholar
  72. Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources, Arab Republic of Egypt (2005) Integrated water resources management planGoogle Scholar
  73. Moghadam V (1997) Economic liberalization, women and politics. Middle East Policy September:164–166Google Scholar
  74. Mohorjy AM, Grigg NS (1995) Water-resources management system for Saudi Arabia. Water Resour Plan Manag 121(2):205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Mohsen MS (2007) Water strategies and potential of desalination in Jordan. Desalination 203:27–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Molle F, Berkhoff J (2006) Cities versus agriculture: revisiting intersectoral water transfers: potential gains and conflicts. Comprehensive Assessment Research Report 10. Comprehensive Assessment Secretariat, Colombo, Sri LankaGoogle Scholar
  77. Molle F, Berkhoff J (2006) Cities versus agriculture: revisiting intersectoral water transfers: potential gains and conflicts. Comprehensive Assessment Research Report 10. Comprehensive Assessment Secretariat, Colombo, Sri LankaGoogle Scholar
  78. Montero D (2008) Insecurity drives farm purchases abroad. Christ Sci Monit 101(19):1–11Google Scholar
  79. Nelson DR, Adger WN, Brown K (2007) Adaptation to environmental change: contributions of a resilience framework. Annu Rev Environ Resour 32:395–419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Orenstein DE (2004) Population growth and environmental impact: ideology and academic discourse in Israel. Popul Environ 26(1):41–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Oroud IM (2008) The impacts of climate change on water resources in Jordan. In: Zereini F, Hotzl H (eds) Climate changes and water resources in the Middle East and North Africa. Springer, Environmental Science and Engineering, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  82. Ostrom E (1990) Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  83. Ostrom E (1992) Crafting institutions for self-governing irrigation systems. ICS Press, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  84. Pelling M, High C (2005) Understanding adaptation: what can social capital offer assessments of adaptive capacity? Glob Environ Change 15:308–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Richards A (2002) Coping with water scarcity: the governance challenge. Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, Policy Papers.
  86. Richards A, Waterbury J (2008) A political economy of the Middle East, 3rd edn. Westview, Boulder, COGoogle Scholar
  87. Rimawi O, Al-Ansari NA (1997) Groundwater degradation in the northeastern part of Mafraq area, Jordan. Freshwater contamination (Proceedings of rabat symposium S4, April–May 1997). IAHS Publ 243:235–243Google Scholar
  88. Ronayne M (2005) The cultural and environmental impacts of large dams in Southeast Turkey. Fact-finding Mission Report. National University of Ireland, Galway, and the Kurdish Human Rights Project, LondonGoogle Scholar
  89. Sa`id R (2004) Azmat al-miyah fi al-watan al-`Arabi (The water crisis in the Arab countries). al-Tab`ah 1. ed. Dar al-Amin, al-QahirahGoogle Scholar
  90. Salem M (2005) Project Toshka on the edge of failure. Al Masry Al Yom, 23 AprilGoogle Scholar
  91. Sánchez E, Gallardoa C, Gaertner MA, Arribas A, Castro M (2004) Future climate extreme events in the Mediterranean simulated by a regional climate model: a first approach. Glob Planet Change 44:163–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Sauvet-Goichon B (2007) Ashkelon desalination plant—a successful challenge. Desalination 203:75–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Shahin M (1996) Hydrology and scarcity of water resources in the Arab Region. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  94. Sowers J (2007) Nature reserves and authoritarian rule in Egypt: embedded autonomy revisited. J Environ Dev 16(4):375–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Sowers J (forthcoming a) Institutional change and environmental governance in the Middle East: water and authority in Egypt. In: VanDeveer S, Steinberg P (eds) Comparative Environmental Politics. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  96. Sowers J (forthcoming b) Re-mapping the nation, critiquing the state: narrating land reclamation for Egypt’s New Valley. In: Davis DK, Burke E (eds) Environmental imaginaries of the Middle East: history, policy, power, and practice. Ohio University Press, AthensGoogle Scholar
  97. Suppan P, Kunstmann H, Heckel A, Rimmer A (2008) Impact of climate change on water availability in the Near East. In: Zereini F, Hotzl H (eds) Climate changes and water resources in the Middle East and North Africa. Springer, Environmental Science and Engineering, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  98. Steinberger EH, Gazit-Yaari N (1996) Recent changes in the spatial distribution of annual precipitation in Israel. J Climate 9:3328–3336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Stern N (2006) Stern review: the economics of climate change.
  100. Tal A (2002) Pollution in a promised land. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  101. Tantawi A (1990) Mawarid al-miyah fi Libiya (Water resources in Libya). al-Tab`ah 1. ed. [Cairo]: al-Maktab al-Misri li-Tawzi` al-Matbu`atGoogle Scholar
  102. Tolba MK, Saab N (2008) Arab public opinion and the environment conference report of 18 country survey. Accessed 9 May 2009
  103. Trottier J (2000) Water and the challenge of Palestinian institution building. J Palest Stud 29(2):35–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. United Nations (2009) Syria drought response planGoogle Scholar
  105. UNDP (2006) Human development report 2006. Beyond scarcity: power, poverty and the global water crisis. UNDP, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  106. UNDP (2007/2008) Human development report 2007/2008, fighting climate change: human solidarity in a divided world. UNDP, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  107. UNEP (2003) Desk study on the environment in the occupied Palestinian Territories. UNEP PCDMB, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  108. Vengosh A (2003) Salinization and saline environments. In: Lollar BS (ed) Environmental geochemistry. Treatise in geochemistry, vol 9. Executive Editors: Holland HD, Turekian KT, Elsevier Science.
  109. Vengosh A, Rosenthal A (1994) Saline groundwater in Israel: its bearing on the water crisis in the country. J Hydrol 156:389–430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  110. Vengosh A, Heumann KG, Juraske S, Kasher R (1994) Boron isotope application for tracing sources of contamination in groundwater. Environ Sci Technol 28:1968–1974CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Vengosh A, Spivack AJ, Artzi Y, Ayalon A (1999) Boron, strontium, and oxygen isotopic and geochemical constraints for the origin of salinity in groundwater from the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Water Resour Res 35:877–1894CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Vengosh A, Kloppmann W, Marie A, Livshitz Y, Gutierrez A, Banna M, Guerrot C, Pankratov I, Ranan H (2005) Sources of salinity and boron in the Gaza Strip: natural contaminant flow in the southern Mediterranean Coastal aquifer. Water Resour Res 41:W01013CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. Vengosh A, Hirschfeld D, Vinson DS, Dwyer GS, Raanan H, Rimawi O, Al-Zoubi A, Akkawi E, Marie A, Haquin G, Zaarur S, Ganor J (2009) High naturally occurring radioactivity in fossil groundwater in the Middle East. Environ Sci Technol 43(6):1769–1775CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  114. Vörösmarty CJ, Green P, Salisbury J, Lammers RB (2000) Global water resources: vulnerability from climate change and population growth. Science 289:284–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  115. Waldoks EH (2009) A man-made disaster. Jerusalem Post, January 29.
  116. Warner J (2008) Contested hydrohegemony: hydraulic control and security in Turkey. Water Altern 1(2):271–288Google Scholar
  117. Weinthal E (2002) State making and environmental cooperation: linking domestic and international politics in Central Asia. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  118. Weinthal E, Marei A (2002) One resource two visions: the prospects for Israeli Palestinian water cooperation. Water Int 27(4):1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  119. Weinthal E, Vengosh A, Marie A, Gutierrez A, Kloppmann W (2005) The water crisis in the Gaza strip: prospects for remediation. Ground Water 43:653–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  120. Wizarat al-Dawla li Shu’un Al-Bi’ah (2007) Al-Taqriir Al-Senawi li Wizarat al-Dawla li Shu’un Al-Bi’ah (Annual report of the ministry of state for environmental affairs). Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, Egypt, Al-QahirahGoogle Scholar
  121. World Bank (2007) Making the most of scarcity: accountability for better water management results in the Middle East and North Africa. World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  122. Zhang X, Aguilar E, Sensoy S, Melkonyan H, Tagiyeva U, Ahmed N, Kutaladze N, Rahimzadeh F, Taghipour T, Hantosh TH, Albert P, Semawi M, Ali MK, Al Shabibi MHS, Zaid Al-Oulan Z, Zatari T, Khelet IAD, Hamoud S, Sagir R, Demircan M, Eken M, Adiguzel M, Alexander L, Peterson TC, Wallis T (2005) Trends in Middle East climate extreme indices from 1950 to 2003. J Geophys Res 110:D22104CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations