Climate change will have a negative impact on the food security of Arab nations. This is a result of decreased agricultural productivity regionally as well as locally. The region’s dependence on food imports, a growing population, and ongoing conflicts and instability will further exacerbate the problem.
What is food security?
A country is food secure when all its citizens have adequate access to and availability of food at all times. The food should be sufficient, safe, nutritious and allows them to maintain a healthy and active life1. Food insecurity exists when people do not have adequate physical, social, or economic access to food2. Being food insecure can lead to undernutrition. This includes being:
- Underweight: below the average weight for one’s age,
- Stunted: too short for one’s age,
- Wasted: dangerously thin,
- Micronutrient Malnutritioned: deficient in vitamins and minerals
Undernutrition can also increase a person’s risk of disease and infection. It also impacts learning and the ability to do physical work.
Is the Arab world food secure or insecure?
Many Arab countries are food insecure and the region is at greater risk due to four main factors:
- The impact of climate change on agricultural production both regionally and globally.
- An increasing dependence on food imports.
- The fast-growing population in the region that will increase demand for food and water.
- Ongoing wars and conflicts in the region.
1. Climate Change Adds More Challenges to a Distressed Region
The Arab world is the most water scarce region in the world. Despite that, 80% of the region’s available water is used in agriculture3. Over the last 50 years, per capita renewable water availability has decreased by two-thirds. It is now less than 5% of the world average4.
Figure 1: the Arab world is the most water scarce region in the world
Figure 2: 80% of the Arab world’s freshwater resources is used in agriculture
Increasing temperatures due to climate change will make the region hotter. Rainfall, which is the main source of irrigation for most crops, will also decrease. As a result, the agricultural sector will suffer with decreasing crop growing periods and decreasing crop yields. The heat and lack of water will also impact the region’s livestock which will face a higher risk of disease5.
2. Importing Food is Risky
The Arab world imports a large portion of their food consumption. This includes staple food. The region imports 70% of its maize consumption, 50% of its wheat and barley consumption, and 40% of its rice consumption. Together, Arab countries are the largest net importers of cereals around the world, importing roughly 65% of the cereals they consume.
Figure 3: The Arab world is the region of the world that is most dependent on importing food
However, this dependence on importing food is very risky. It makes the region highly vulnerable to global rises in food prices as a consequence of climate change and other factors. For example, droughts in food producing countries will cause the global supply of food to decrease. This will increase food prices both globally and regionally. As a result, Arab countries may have to pay more for their food, while some foods may not be available.
3. A Growing Population Means More People to Feed
The Arab population is growing rapidly. In 2015, the population of the region was approximately 400 million. By 2050, it is expected to reach 600 million. As cities in the Arab region keep expanding, the demand for food and water will keep increasing.
4. Conflicts Make People Food Insecure
The Arab world is witnessing political instability and conflicts that negatively impact access to food. In Syria, where the conflict has been ongoing for the past 6 years, approximately 6.9 million people are food insecure6 and an additional 3.1 million are at risk of food insecurity. The situation in Yemen isn’t any better. Currently, 17 million Yemenis (60% of the population) are food insecure7. In addition, 3.3 million children and pregnant and nursing women are acutely malnourished. In Sudan, 4 million people require emergency food assistance8. Furthermore, 2 million children under-5 are acutely malnourished. In Iraq, approximately 1 million people are already food insecure. In addition, more than half of Iraqi families are at risk of food insecurity9. So what can Arab countries do to improve their food security?
Sources: 1 World Food Programme. 2017. What is Food Security. 2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2003. Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualizing the Linkages. 3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2015. Regional Overview of Food Insecurity: Near East and North Africa. 4 World Development Indicators. Accessed December 2016. Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (cubic meters). 5 World Bank. 2014. Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal. 6 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2017. Syrian Arabic Republic: Situation Report July 2017. 7 World Food Programme. 2017. Yemen. 8 United States Agency for International Development. 2017. Food Assistance Fact Sheet: Sudan. 9 World Food Programme. 2017. Press Release: More Than Half Of Iraq’s Population At Risk Of Food Insecurity – Government – WFP Analysis.