Addressing climate displacement in the MENA region
By Jack Durrell
Climate change threatens the viability of agriculture, ecosystems, and rural livelihoods in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In a region where agriculture is a critical source of employment and income, environmental degradation and the decline of more variable productivity could potentially cause widespread displacement, posing significant challenges. Climate change now appears to be influencing migration flows in some areas, and this influence is expected to grow as conditions become progressively hotter and drier.
We need strategic investments now to strengthen resilience and maintain rural livelihoods. Communities will need support to prepare for and recover from immediate weather shocks such as drought, and adapt to shifting climatic conditions over the medium- to longer-term. The costs of our inaction will only grow as adaptation needs escalate.
A new discussion paper published by ICARDA and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security outlines a ‘resilience strategy’ that MENA countries can adopt to address the threats of climate displacement.
The strategy is not designed to stop migration altogether – given the existence of migration networks and the fact that millions of rural households already use migration as a form of income diversification. Its aim is more practical: to give rural people the option of remaining where they are to build productive lives, and in situations where agriculture is no longer viable, assistance to leave climate-vulnerable areas.
A strategic response to the threat of climate displacement
A critical first step is to improve the collection of data, developing an evidence base to inform policies and decision-making. Countries can start by reviewing existing evidence to identify knowledge gaps, linking census data and climatic information to identify vulnerable groups, and ensuring that environmental indicators are included in household surveys.
Climate-vulnerable areas should also be targeted with proven adaptation measures – in response to both short-term and longer-term risks. The region’s exposure to climate variability and weather shocks such as drought, for example, requires early warning systems, weather-index insurance schemes and climate-advisory services, which not only help farmers prepare and recover from extreme events, but also strengthen their long-term resilience to the more progressive impacts of climate change.
The hotter and drier conditions that the MENA region is expected to endure over the course of this century will need a holistic response that includes the more efficient use of scarce water resources; the conservation, collection, and utilization of biodiversity – for climate-resilient crops and livestock breeds; integrated crop–livestock farming systems; the promotion of sustainable value chains and off-farm activities; and improved efforts to scale-up proven technologies – ensuring that innovations get into the hands of farmers.
In areas where agriculture is no longer viable, countries should explore alternative livelihoods, such as eco-tourism and the generation of solar power, or utilize migration as a form of climate change adaptation, helping to reduce pressures in climate-vulnerable areas and strengthening resilience - through the circulation of remittances and new ideas and knowledge that could potentially support climate-smart agriculture.
Implementing a resilience strategy
Countries already have several planning mechanisms they can utilize to embed resilience-strengthening measures into their climate adaptation strategies – for instance, Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans. A major challenge, however, will be accessing the necessary funds to finance resilience, particularly given declining donor investments in agricultural research.
It is imperative, therefore, that MENA countries adopt practical and strategic financial outreach plans that effectively target diverse sources of funding – identifying suitable funding sources, increasing or initiating engagement with donors, and preparing proposals that are ‘bankable.’ Additional efforts are also needed to engage the private sector.
In addition, there is the need to strengthen capacities – ensuring that government agencies, ministries, and national agricultural research systems can undertake and utilize research more effectively, and embrace technological innovations such as geo-informatics and climate modeling.
It's a tall order, but not impossible. With strong political leadership, the support of international development organizations like the CGIAR, and the financial contributions of donors, MENA countries have an opportunity to implement a resilience strategy that delivers for vulnerable rural communities, helping them to build productive lives and avoid the uncertainties and challenges posed by displacement.