The Middle East and North Africa are particularly exposed to water shortages. An additional 155 to 600 million people may suffer an increase in water stress in North Africa with a 3° Celsius temperature rise.
“The number of dry days is expected to increase everywhere in the region,” said Wulf Killmann, chair of FAO’s working group on climate change. “The number of frost days should decrease, while heat waves in the region’s more continental areas might become more frequent. As a result, the length of growing seasons should decrease. More efficient water and energy use, sustainable agriculture, better forest management and afforestation are key measures to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Killmann added.
Changes in temperature, rainfall and climatic extremes will only add to the stress on agricultural resources in a region, where land availability and degradation, food price shocks and population growth are already a major concern. Arable land is limited in the arid and semi-arid areas that cover most of the region, making agriculture potentially highly vulnerable to climate change.
Shifts in rainfall patterns will affect crops, particularly rice, in many countries in the Near East. Yemen is particularly at risk given its existing low income levels, rapidly growing population and acute water shortage.
Many of the region’s irrigation systems are under considerable environmental strain due to salinity, water logging or overexploitation of groundwater. Groundwater, including non-renewable fossil water, is of primary importance in most countries of the region.
Competition for water within the region and across its borders may grow, carrying the risk of conflict. Some parts of the region, particularly the Nile Delta and the Gulf coast of the Arabian Peninsula, are particularly vulnerable to flooding from rising sea levels.
Due to complex interactions of many factors, crop growing may become unsustainable in some areas. For example, maize yields in North Africa could fall by between 15 and 25 percent with 3°C rise in temperature.
“Once temperature increases reach 3 or 4°C, the impacts will be strongest across Western Asia and the Middle East, where yields of the predominant regional crops may fall by 23 to 35 percent with weak carbon fertilization, or 15 to 20 percent with strong carbon fertilization. In West Asia, climate change is likely to cause severe water stress throughout this century,” the report said.
Many countries in the region have been major wheat and rice importers. Climate change may increase this dependence on imports.
Livestock pest and disease distribution and their transmission patterns will be altered, with epidemics almost certain.
FAO urged countries in the Near East to address the imminent threats related to climate change. “Agriculture should be promoted as a key player in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Conservation agriculture, water harvesting, afforestation, sustainable management of forests and rangelands, soil storage of carbon, improved fertilizer use and the careful promotion of bioenergy in climatically suitable areas should be applied to mitigate climate change,” Killmann said.
FAO works with governments, rural communities and research institutions and provides global data, analytical tools and models, crop forecasting and impact monitoring and information on climate change related risks.
FAO will host a high-level international conference on world food security, climate change and bioenergy in Rome (3-5 June 2008).
Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers of agriculture, environment, trade, energy, water, forests and fisheries will address these issues.
“It is a unique opportunity for policy-makers to broaden the perspective and to discuss how climate change affects agriculture - and how agriculture can contribute to reduce climate change,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General. “Climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions of people in rural areas. But improved farming also has a key role to play reducing greenhouse gases.”