The effects of climate change and environmental degradation in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are being intensified by the consequences of prolonged conflict.
Communities directly affected by conflicts suffer disproportionately, while the most vulnerable cannot adapt to climate change’s effects.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) News reports that in Yemen, it is common for people to leave their homes and flee to other places because of conflict, only finding that the new area is not suitable for farming.
Yemenis heavily rely on agriculture and farming, but eight years of conflict pushed these people to a breaking point as drought, floods, and prolonged conflict destroyed their livelihoods.
In Iraq, 39% of its territory is affected by desertification. The consequences of conflict, water scarcity, rising temperatures, droughts, and dust storms have also eroded the sustainability of their agriculture.
Northern Syria produces and supplies 70% of its domestic requirements. The area also plays host to a large number of internally displaced people. However, the country suffers the consequences of environmental degradation and climate change in the form of changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures, and the ongoing conflicts in the area further amplify these impacts.
A report from the ICRC and the Norwegian Red Cross, “Making Adaptation Work,” published in April 2023, presents the compound impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, and prolonged armed conflict in the Near and Middle East and how these mutually reinforcing crises aggravate humanitarian needs.
The report documents emerging adaptation approaches implemented in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to address the compounding problem and provides recommendations for addressing these challenges.
The report aims to:
- Enable humanitarian actors to understand better the main risks faced by communities in the region and better respond to their needs;
- Identify opportunities and barriers in strengthening community resilience to climate and environmental risks in areas affected by armed conflict or by the legacy of conflict; and,
- Call for urgent joint action by humanitarian, development, climate, environmental, and state actors to help people affected by armed conflict and violence deal with the impact of climate change and environmental degradation in the short, medium, and long term.
Environmental degradation reduces agricultural productivity and food security. Nearly half of all the Middle East and North African agricultural land is affected by high salinity levels, soil nutrient depletion, and wind–water erosion.
Water scarcity poses a significant public health challenge, with half of the region’s population living in water-stressed areas.
Air quality has also declined, with residents living in urban areas breathing air, with a level of pollutants that is ten times higher than what is considered safe. The region’s temperature has also increased by 1.5°C since the 1990s.
Protracted and ongoing armed conflicts disrupt economic development, weaken institutions, governance, and social cohesion and damage the built and natural environment.
The report provides examples of local adaptation and resilience initiatives in conflict-affected stings in the Near and Middle East. These adaptation initiatives include:
Capacity-building to manage crop diseases in Syria (2020). Through government training, which the ICRC facilitates, wheat growers are trained in disease-management strategies that are also responsive to climate change.
Strengthening the role of women in water-related conflict resolution in Yemen (2018-2020). Funded and implemented by UN organisations, the ‘Water for Peace in Yemen: Strengthening the Role of Women in Water Conflict Resolution’ project aims to identify and address drivers of local water conflicts in the area, focusing on including women and the community in water conflict resolution.
The project sought to increase water access through irrigation, improve food production, and identify new economic prospects for vulnerable families to address the root cause of the water conflict.
The 15th Garden, Syria. A grassroots urban initiative by an international network of farmers was founded in 2011 to boost food security in besieged cities. The initiative offers training on sustainable agriculture and gardening for smallholder farmers and creates opportunities for them to swap and reproduce seeds for continuous cultivation.
Food4Humanity in Yemen. The civil society organization sprang from an urgent humanitarian need to deliver water to vulnerable communities in Taiz in 2015. Founder Muna Luqman negotiated with the conflicting parties to allow water trucks to reach an orphanage.
Since then, the organisation has negotiated local ceasefires to water disputes that end up in violence, secured water access rights for communities in conflict, and rehabilitated water infrastructure. The organisation also runs many solar-powered water projects that Yemeni diaspora women almost entirely fund.
Other initiatives of the humanitarian organisation include running sanitation campaigns, training medics, and distributing hygiene kits and bakeries run by internally displaced people.
Adaptation to seasonal floods in northern Yemen (2014-2015). Local farmers observe that flooding in Wadi Fallah, its seasonal river in the north of Yemen that is a crucial source of irrigation, is becoming more frequent and stronger, inundating the fields with sand and destroying retaining walls along agricultural terraces. Still, farmers lack the finances to clean the fields and the technical know-how to rebuild their retaining walls.
The ICRC provided local farmers with materials and financial support to restore their agricultural land and improve the flood protection structures, replacing dry-stone retaining walls with stronger gabion walls. The use of gabion walls is new for farmers and requires additional capacity-building measures for the community.
Increasing beekeeping capacities in Syria (2020). Beekeeping is an important income-generating activity for many families in Tartus Governorate. But environmental degradation, deteriorating economic conditions following the war in Syria, and lack of supplies remain challenging for these families. With the help of the ICRC, beekeeping families were provided with additional hives and tools needed to look after them, reducing their production costs and household expenses.
Overall, the report emphasizes the need for urgent and transformative actions to address the compounding impacts of environmental degradation, climate change, and conflicts in the Near and Middle East regions. The region can become more sustainable and resilient by implementing a holistic approach that integrates climate adaptation, mitigation, and conflict resolution.
Read more by clicking the links provided in the “Source” section below.
Near And Middle East: Combined Effects of Climate Change and Armed Conflict Aggravate Humanitarian Needs. (2023, May 18). ICRC. Retrieved from https://www.icrcnewsroom.org/story/en/2053/near-and-middle-east-combined-effects-of-climate-change-and-armed-conflict-aggravate-humanitarian-needs/2958
Making Adaptation Work: Addressing the compounding impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and conflict in the Near and Middle East. (2023). Retrieved from https://www.preventionweb.net/media/87781/download?startDownload=true