The impact of climate change will be especially acute in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to a new World Bank Group report.
It said immediate action will be needed to avoid the projected consequences of worsening water shortages and rising food insecurity.
The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the threat to the region posed by increasingly severe weather, and offers a set of policy options for the urgent task of managing current effects and building resilience against those yet to come.
“Reducing vulnerability to climate change will require concerted action on multiple levels,” said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice president for sustainable development.
“Political leadership now, will be critical in establishing climate change as a national and regional priority.”
The Arab world has been adapting to climate change for centuries. There is a long history and tradition of coping with the associated challenges, such as changes in temperature and rainfall.
The World Bank said new climate change risks are emerging at a much faster rate, including the prospect of a world that is four degrees hotter, and resilience built up over years is being severely tested.
Over the past 30 years, climate disasters have affected 50 million people in the Arab world, costing about $12bn directly.
Recent trends suggest that dry regions are becoming drier and flash floods have become more frequent. The 2006 flooding of the Nile River Basin led to 600 deaths, with a further 118,000 people affected, while in 2008 a record five-year drought finally ended in the Jordan River Basin.
Globally, 2010 was the warmest year since records began in the 1800s, and of the 19 countries that set new record temperatures, five were in MENA.
Regional temperatures are projected to reach new record highs, coupled with less rainfall which, in a region with the world’s lowest endowment of freshwater, could make this precious natural resource even scarcer.
“Climate change is a reality for people in Arab countries,” said Inger Andersen, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa region.
“It 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.”
The report stresses that adaptation should be integrated into all national policies and actions to ensure they are climate resilient.
The World Bank Group said it is currently engaged across the region in supporting countries and communities in coping with the effects of a changing climate.