Middle East among 'world's most vulnerable' for ecological threats

New global report warns of water and food supply crises, with Lebanon, Singapore, Israel and Iraq most at risk

TOPSHOT - A displaced Syrian brings water back to their camp in a camp for the displaced in Syria's northeastern city of Hasakah on August 24, 2020.  / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN
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The Middle East is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions when it comes to ecological threats over the next 30 years, according to a global report.

The first Ecological Threat Register, produced by Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP), also warned of the mass displacement of 1.2 billion people across the world by 2050.

The Middle East was named alongside Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and North Africa as the regions facing the largest number of ecological risks.

The report stated more than one billion people are living in countries which were unlikely to adapt to new challenges over the next 30 years.

“There are a number of countries in the Middle East that are going to be vulnerable to severe water shortages in the future,” said Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the IEP.

Countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen will have low resilience to ecological stresses

“Countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen will have low resilience to ecological stresses.

“We saw the impact wars had in those countries in terms of the numbers who were forced to migrate. Now they are also going to be facing increased stress on their water and food supplies.”

The Ecological Threat Register measures the risk to countries arising from population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, rising temperatures and sea levels.

The report found that 141 countries were likely to be exposed to at least one ecological threat by 2050.

The 19 countries with the highest number of threats have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, representing close to 25 per cent of people in the world.

Water stress represents the most significant concern to life in the Middle East over the coming decades, according to Mr Killelea.

The number of recorded water-related conflict and violent incidents increased by 270 per cent globally in the past decade.

Since 2000, most of those incidents took place in Yemen and Iraq, according to the report.

The report states there are 2.6 billion people in the world who are experiencing water stress today, a figure which is predicted to grow to 5.4 billion people by 2040.

The worst affected countries are predicted to be Lebanon, Singapore, Israel and Iraq.

“Ecological threats and climate change pose serious challenges to global peacefulness,” said Mr Killelea.

Over the next 30 years, lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation, he warned.

“In the absence of action civil unrest, riots and conflict will most likely increase. Covid-19 is already exposing gaps in the global food chain.”

Palestine was also named in the new report as being among the countries where water scarcity represented the biggest ecological threat over the next 30 years.

The report also stated the global demand for food is expected to increase by 50 per cent, meaning that many more people will be at risk of hunger unless there is a significant increase in supply.

More than two billion people across the world already face uncertain access to food, that figure is predicted to increase to 3.5 billion by 2050.

With the world’s population expected to rise to 10 billion over the next three decades, the IEP predicts access to food is going to be a major issue for large sectors of the global population.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said last month that bolstering food and water security was a top priority for the UAE.

He stressed that the Covid-19 outbreak had only served to highlight the need to be self-sufficient.

A global report, published by the Water Resources Institute (WRI) in August, 2019, ranked the country 10th out of 164 in a global league table of nations where water supplies are most stretched.

The UAE was among 17 countries facing “extremely high water stress”, researchers said, meaning 80 per cent of available surface and groundwater in an average year is being consumed.

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, called for water resources to be managed more effectively through the use of advanced recycling technologies during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed.

“The food and water security file shows an urgent need for sustainable development and enhancing the work of the management of resources to provide water and food for future generations," she said.

Mr Killelea added that the growing economy in China will also put extreme pressure on global food demand.

“The rising incomes in north Asia, particularly in China, will mean more people will move into the middle class, a demographic that traditionally consumes more food,” he said.

“That puts additional stresses on what food is out there which is likely to increase the cost as well.”

The countries predicted to struggle the most with food supply issues are Sierra Leone, Liberia, Niger, Malawi and Lesotho, where more than half of the population already experience uncertainty with access to sufficient food to be healthy.

It is not just countries in the developing world that are at risk from ecological threats over the coming decades.

Mr Killelea said regions such as Europe and North America will be impacted by the number of refugees created by ecological crises.

“We saw how the refugee crisis of 2015 and 2016, which saw two million people flee to Europe, created political turbulence and social unrest,” he said.

“Mass displacement will lead to larger refugee flows to the most developed countries.

“Ecological change is the next big global threat to our planet and people’s lives, and we must unlock the power of business and government action to build resilience for the places most at risk.”