Middle East must do more to predict disasters from climate change, report warns

Anticipatory action required to pre-empt humanitarian crises, World Food Programme study says

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As the Middle East faces severe consequences from climate change, action needs to be taken to identify threats that could lead to humanitarian disasters, a conference heard on Tuesday.

At the launch in Dubai of a report called 'Anticipatory Action in the Mena region: State of Play and Accelerating Action', officials said greater investment was needed to help communities before crises developed.

Efforts could include advance support for poorer areas that face disruption to their agricultural production as a result of climate change.

The International Monetary Fund in March issued a stark warning that the Middle East and Central Asia face dire economic and financial consequences if nothing is done to address the worsening climate crisis.

Warnings have been there, but the decision-making process has not been lined up to say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ That’s what anticipatory action can do
Oscar Ekdahl, World Food Programme

In its report, the IMF said so far this century, in an average year, climate disasters in the Middle East and Central Asia have injured or displaced 7 million people, caused more than 2,600 deaths and resulted in $2 billion in damage.

The conference at International Humanitarian City to launch the latest report on Tuesday — titled 'Road to Cop27: Anticipatory Action Milestones and Way Forward' — heard that many parts of the region were not ready for the food insecurity, droughts and increased natural disasters that stem from climate change.

“Over the past couple of years, it’s become clear to all of us how seriously the region is at risk,” said Dane McQueen, director of programmes and partnerships at the office of the UAE Climate Change Special Envoy.

“Given that we’re warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, it’s likely that we’ll see growing impacts that we don’t have many great options to alleviate.”

While the threats are significant, Mr McQueen said “so many of these climate disasters are predictable” and it was important for action to take place before problems, such as food insecurity, developed in particular areas.

Humanitarian agencies should, he suggested, release funds to combat looming threats based on forecasts, as this would allow for a timely response.

“We’re keen to work with all climate and humanitarian actors to see what we can achieve at Cop27, Cop28 and probably Cop29 and 30,” Mr McQueen said, referencing the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conferences, the next two of which will be held in the region, in Egypt this year and in the UAE in 2023.

Better prepared

As well as causing average temperatures to increase, climate change is expected to lead to a greater frequency of extreme weather events, including droughts and floods, that can result in humanitarian crises.

The report, released by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based organisation, highlights how anticipatory action — taken before a disaster to mitigate its most damaging effects and to speed up recovery — comes on top of established approaches to disaster reduction and seasonal preparedness.

“To date, there has been no concentrated attention paid to the progress and potential for anticipatory action across the region,” the report states.

“Given the extent of humanitarian action in the region, there is great hope that applying lessons from the global experience, as well as bringing experiences from the Mena region to the fore, will help advance this agenda.”

The report outlines four key components: forecasting, risk information and early warning systems; planning; financing; and delivery.

An essential part of delivering action is, the report stated, “effective disaster management and social protection systems that can deliver timely assistance to at-risk populations”.

While it says “efforts are being made” to enhance forecasting and risk information in the Mena region, the report warns that capacity, co-ordination and the translation of warnings into action is inadequate.

The report says systems need to be strengthened and greater support from governments is needed, while funds must be sourced from across the globe.

“Ultimately, dedicated funding to prioritise anticipatory action in the context of broader efforts to reduce and manage disaster risk, and to enhance preparedness, will be required,” the report says.

Growing food insecurity

Until now, warnings of impending crises have sometimes not been acted on, suggested Oscar Ekdahl, a Cairo-based regional programme officer for disaster risk management and climate change at the WFP.

“In the past, there have been early warnings of drought but we’ve not acted,” he said.

“Warnings have been there, but the decision-making process has not been lined up to say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ That’s what anticipatory action can do."

Mageed Yahia, director of the WFP for the GCC, told the conference there could not be “a more pressing time” when it came to the region’s food situation.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates -Mageed Yahia,  Director of WFP office in the UAE & Representative to the GCC speakiing  at World Food Programme Stop the Waste campaign at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai.  Leslie Pableo for The National

“Three years after the pandemic and the cost of increasing food prices and ongoing conflicts and the impact of climate change are driving the number in the population in need of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Now, he said, 345 million people around the world face acute food insecurity — double the pre-pandemic number.

He said the WFP was investing in early-warning systems in countries such as Jordan and Yemen to identify where food insecurity may develop.

“We hope that more partners will join us in moving ahead,” he said.

“I’m also encouraged that there is representation from the UAE. The UAE is taking bold steps to reduce emissions and to respond to climate change at home and abroad.”

Dr Emad Adly, general co-ordinator at the Arab Network for Environment and Development, told the conference that Cop27, to be held in Sharm El Sheikh in November, offered an opportunity to strengthen advance action to prevent crises.

He said organisations, including UN agencies and international organisations, would be able to develop projects outside of the main conference agenda.

“We have to give more support to the hotspots in our countries,” he said.

Updated: August 10, 2022, 11:06 AM