World Bank officials stressed that climate challenges in the Middle East included water scarcity, food shortage, and energy security, noting that the Saudi Green Initiative was an example to follow in order to address these threats.
Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed Paul Noumba Um, the Regional Director of the World Bank’s Infrastructure Department in the MENA region, and Marina Weiss, Regional Director for Egypt, Yemen, and Djibouti, on the sidelines of the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The two officials noted that the Bank paid great attention to the Middle East and North Africa region, saying that during the past year, it contributed about $32 billion in support to developing countries’ climate response.
“We believe that the climate problem is the most pressing issue of our time and for future generations, and (doing nothing) is not an option…Part of our action and our goal during our participation in COP27 is that we should not look at addressing climate change from the point of view of costs, but as a great opportunity that can be invested to obtain a better life…” they said.
The two World Bank officials added: “In the Middle East and North Africa, 6 out of 10 people suffer from water scarcity. This is the main output of our analysis during the Country Climate Diagnostic Report, which highlighted this result in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.”
Both Noumba Um and Weiss emphasized that water scarcity was a huge challenge. “If we do not deal with it properly, it may cause a violent mass displacement of the population to other areas, which in turn may be affected as a result of displacement and an increase in density compared to the available water,” they warned.
They said that it might also cause damage to life and the economy in large areas, as it may reduce national income between 3 and 6 percent by 2050.
“Water scarcity is reflected, of course, on food security, which is the second problem that is no less important,” they said.
The third challenge, according to the two officials, is energy security.
They noted that the MENA region was a sunny area that enjoyed the necessary land and manpower to use for energy transition.
On the Saudi Green initiatives, the two officials emphasized that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were seeking to address the three challenges of water, food, and energy.
They added that the Gulf countries have the largest reserves of oil and gas, “and most of them now possess – and are working on – technologies to reduce emissions from fossil energy… which goes in parallel with our efforts in the SCALE initiative, for example.”
Moreover, Noumba Um and Weiss pointed to progress in the production of green and blue hydrogen in the Gulf through technologies that are compatible with climate protection.
“So we conclude that the Gulf countries are on the right track, and have taken the agenda of dealing with climate change very seriously and as a high priority,” they remarked.
Asked about the support provided by the World Bank to the MENA region, the two officials said: “We, with our partners, provided developing countries last year with about $32 billion to confront climate challenges.”
They noted that around half of the budget was dedicated to adaptation efforts, while the other part was for damage mitigation.
“This amount represents about 35 percent of our total financing during that period, which shows the extent of the Bank’s interest in climate issues,” they underlined.
The Bank also launched a new initiative called, SCALE, a new multi-partner fund to help reduce emissions, which will benefit the region and other developing countries.
On the World Bank’s efforts to face the problem of displacement, the two officials said: “We try primarily to prevent this from happening… We try to alert governments to the upcoming danger through our research and analysis, even if we are dealing with a fragile society (in conflict areas for example). We are also seeking to provide these societies with the necessary technologies and programs to resolve the crisis or stop its deterioration.”
Noumba Um praised the positive energy and active and broad participation from all parties at COP27.
“I don’t like to anticipate the results, because the challenges and files here are enormous,” he said, underlining the need to unify efforts “because we have no other options.”
He pointed out that some countries were facing existential crises.
“For example, water scarcity in Jordan has exceeded the maximum level ever recorded and allowed internationally,” he warned, saying that the country needed international and regional assistance to overcome the crisis and “to reduce water wastage and preserve every drop by all means.”