Strengthening National Capacities to Manage Water Scarcity and Drought in West Asia and North Africa
Project 121C "ROA-207"

To strengthen the capacities of national planners, policy makers and stakeholders in water-scarce and in transition settings countries in West Asia/North Africa, and to enhance their effectiveness in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of pre-impact and preparedness drought management strategies.


Droughts are complex events generally associated with greatly reduced precipitation, dry soil that impairs agricultural production, and reduced water levels in reservoirs and other bodies of water that can compromise drinking supplies and natural resources. Drought is a contributing factor to conflict, and conflict also makes drought situations worse, in turn causing famine and economic hardship. Many areas affected by drought are arid to semi-arid which tend to be under substantial ecological pressure and low in resources. When drought occurs in such arid areas, the living conditions of the local people become very difficult; the land yields no crops and the quantity of water is insufficient. People often compete for the availability of scarce water resources which can lead to tension and violent conflict.

Water scarcity, drought and the efforts to maintain and build peace are intricately connected. The interaction of these three elements remains the focal point of this project. Drought does not inevitably lead to conflict; however, by causing poverty, marginalization and migration, drought creates the conditions that make violence an attractive option for disempowered communities. Drought may require families to break up as young farmers either move to the city in search of work or join militias as promising outlets to poverty, the latter option adding to social and economic instability and the potential for violent conflict. The economic impacts of drought are a fundamental explanation for these behaviours. As farmers and their communities become desperate, they are often recruited by government or reactionary militias. Marginalised agriculturalists are often cited as one such group that is often recruited to fight proxy wars where they are able to raid cattle. This also applies to nomads. Civil stability is then compromised through the deterioration of social groups and communities. Drought can also lead to migration, which in turn can lead to conflict over settlement and further social instability and fragmentation.


Water scarcity and drought have severe adverse implications for sustainable development in countries and regions affected by transition settings. As droughts have increased in frequency and intensity by climate change, it has affected these developing areas by contributing to decreases in agricultural production, grain shortages, and increases in food insecurity, famine, and loss of human life. These issues not only affect human livelihood, but they also discourage investment in the agricultural sector, hinder economic development, obstruct peace-building efforts, and carry the risk of invoking repeated violent conflicts. Sustainable development challenges associated with the prevention and management of drought are also the focus of chapter 12 of Agenda 21 and Chapter IV of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (agreed upon at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development) titled “Protecting and Managing the Natural Resource Base of Economic and Social Development”, which also details the responses to drought.

It is well documented that drought has become more frequent in most of the Arab countries in transition settings and located in arid and semi-arid areas of North Africa and West Asia where rainfall is low and its distribution is very variable, especially during the last three decades. This region is also host to various local, national and international conflicts and violence. Poverty, water and food insecurity, and inequality in the Arab world are much higher than income levels would suggest. Major causes for these socio-economic challenges are combined with water scarcity and ongoing conflicts. The series of protests and demonstrations across the Arab world known as the "Arab Spring" underscores the importance of quickly and effectively responding to these challenges. This is especially true considering the current and predicted effects of ongoing climate change, as countries in transition settings are the most vulnerable and disproportionately suffer from water scarcity given their lack of built infrastructure as well as human and social capital.

The project responds to a call for urgent action from the Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development on taking effective measures to deal with drought and water scarcity as well as developing disaster risk reduction and community resilience through such means as technology transfer, capacity building, regional support initiatives and extension training programmes. It also serves to forward the Secretary General’s Five-Year Action Agenda, which highlights support for countries in transition as one of the top five priorities for the next five years. In addition, it responds to decisions taken by the seventeenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17) on policy options and practical measures on drought that threatens the livelihoods of millions of people. CSD-17 called for effective drought management considering social, economic and environmental aspects. The project is also in line with the 2009 Report of the Secretary-General on Drought that highlighted the nexus between water scarcity and drought and the dislocation, ethnic tensions and disputes over water use.

Within this document we employ the terminology “in transition settings countries”. At the time of this project’s launch, there is no concrete consensus on the definition for this term, and thus we will define it as follows: In transition settings “refers to a shift in focus and activities [within a country] from relief to development oriented activities, or may broadly refer to a transition from conflict to peace, with varying phases depending on the institutional lens or discourse being used”.

Copyright United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs