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Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources: A New Modelling Study for the Arab Region

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Photo 1: Plant earth (Source: Geralt, Pixabay)

By: Rossella Messina

For the first time, an integrated assessment that includes climate change predictions, hydrological modelling and socio-economic vulnerability has been developed for the Arab region. It is the result of six years of work within the RICCAR project (Regional Initiative for the Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Socio-Economic Vulnerability in the Arab Region), which was presented at the World Water Week in Stockholm (27 August- 1 September, 2017).[1],[2]

The focus of the project is modelling the impact of climate change on freshwater resources. The study is an integrated impact and vulnerability assessment that attempts to fill the gap between science and policymaking. The impact assessment combines hydrological models with regional climate change projections to identify key environmental changes, for instance in temperature or precipitation, by the middle of the century (2046-2065) and by the end of the century (2081-2100). The vulnerability assessment incorporates the human dimension. It is based on several indicators about social and economic factors and specific national policies. The indicators range from population density to household access to water and crop water demand, giving an idea of how susceptible a region is to climate change.[3]

Ihab Jnad, head of the water resources department at the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Land (ACSAD), one of the partners of the project, underlined its uniqueness, “Previous similar works were realized using data from other regions, adapting them for the Arab domain. This is the first time we have gathered and analysed data specifically for the Arab region.” The predicted average temperature increase by the end of the 21st century ranges from 2°-5°C for the severe scenario, with the higher increase in the Sahara region and in Yemen and Saudi Arabia for the Arabian Peninsula. On the other hand, the decrease in average monthly precipitation could be in the range of 8-10mm by the end of the century, mainly in the Atlas Mountains and in the Upper Euphrates and Tigris basins.

Figure 1: indicators of climate change impact on water resources and of socio-economic vulnerability as proposed by the RICCAR climate model.

Figure 1: indicators of climate change impact on water resources and of socio-economic vulnerability as proposed by the RICCAR climate model.

Jnad explained the next steps for the RICCAR project. “As ACSAD, we gained a lot of experience and now we are focusing on dissemination. Lebanon is the first country that asked us to develop the model at a national level, since ours so far has been regional. We are also receiving requests from other countries to develop training on modelling and vulnerability assessment or for studies in crop production. Also, there are negotiations to initiate phase two of the project, which will include a focus on smaller areas and on specific issues, for instance groundwater resources.”

The RICCAR project is certainly a new source of information on climate change and water resources in the Arab region. The methodology and the final outcomes were drafted by experts who met in regional working groups and had the opportunity to review the project. However, ACSAD and its partners will have to face some challenges in the future. Collecting the data that are necessary for updating models and assessments is always a challenge in many of the MENA countries. Project leaders need to find a way to keep the stakeholders involved and actively participating in the maintenance of the model. It is also hard to say whether they will succeed in achieving their goal of raising awareness and promoting institutional robustness, which will be at the core of the next phases of the RICCAR initiative.[4] This is always the most delicate part of these projects, as there is no guarantee that they will be adopted by politicians as the basis for future discussions.