The global weather changes have negatively impacted many regions worldwide. The Middle East and North African region reflects a drastic negative change, especially the decrease in rainfall and the increase in temperature, dryness, and the longer duration of droughts in addition to an increase in desertification.
More than two thirds of the region has been already classified as barren desert. The less than one third of the land suitable for cultivation tends to be located along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The general impact of such weather changes led to a decrease in agricultural productivity. This in return, led all Arab states to rely more and more on food imports to meet their national demands.
None of the Arab states could be classified as food sufficient. This situation increased reliance on food imports, which were estimated at $30 billion in 2010. Furthermore, it is projected to be more than double by the year 2020, reaching $75 billion. (almasry-alyoum.com, 6/17/11).
Such projections should be viewed in light of population growth, which is expected to double during 25-30 years. As of 2010, the population of the Arab world was estimated to be $365 million people. What will make the situation even worse is the shortage of fresh water. All of the Arab states, with the exception of Sudan, are classified as water poverty stricken. Several Arab states, such as Jordan, Yemen, the occupied West Bank, Iraq and Syria have slipped below the minimal water level needed, which is 700 cu.met of water per person per year, according to the U.N. Scale there is also other factors that have contributed negatively to this situation. More than 65% of water used is wasted due to the lack of recycling. Also, water use is mismanaged, especially in agricultural cultivation. Furthermore, the increases in urban growth due to natural population growth and the influx from rural to urban areas, lead to the expansion of housing constructions on agricultural lands.
Egypt, the most populated Arab state, reflects these common problems referred to. Nearly 95% of the population reside on 5% of the land, along the banks of the Nile River and the Delta region south of Cairo and stretches to the Mediterranean shores to the city of Alexandria.
Nearly 95% of the land is barren desert and this percentage is continually increasing due to desertification. Furthermore, nearly all the land that has been reclaimed for cultivation as a result of the construction of the Aswan Dam nearly 40 years ago has been lost due to urban expansion.
According to the U.N. report on “Compoting Desertification” classifies Egyptian lands in terms of its suitability for cultivation as follows: 86% of the land is extremely unsuitable for cultivation; 10% is barren desert and 4% is suitable for cultivation. The report revealed that due to climate changes, the rainfall along the Mediterranean Sea has decreased from 150 millimeters to nearly 85 millimeters per year.
According to Dr. Mohammad Yehia, the director of the Desert Research Center in Egypt, Egypt loses an average of 30,000 feddan of agricultural land per year to urban expansion. Furthermore, he pointed out that Egypt has lost 1.5 million feddan during the past ten years. Also, untreated sewer water, garbage and some industrial chemicals waste that were buried have contaminated some of the agricultural land. (almasry-alyoum.com, 7/1/2011).
There are more than 5,000 villages in Egypt and more than 60% of them have no sewer system. Also, Egypt has begun to experience a shortage of fresh water. Nearly 95% of Egypt’s consumed water tends to come from the Nile River that starts beyond the political boundaries of Egypt. 85% of the Nile River is diverted to agricultural cultivation, where Egyptian farmers are still using the ancient methods of irrigation. As a result, it has been projected by the Egyptian government that during the next 5-10 years, Egypt will experience severe water shortages. This should also be viewed in light of Egypt’s continuous population growth, which is anticipated to reach 100 million by the year 2020.
Therefore, the shortages of food and water, not just in Egypt but also in the entire Arab world, is the biggest challenge that the region is facing at the present. It has been estimated that there are already more than 95 million people in the Arab world who are classified as poverty stricken and live below the poverty index level, which is $2 per day per person.
This number will increase rapidly unless Arab states adopt a new strategy, especially in regards to population growth, the introduction of new advanced methods of cultivation, better management of the meager water resources and the creation of new jobs for the millions of young people who enter the job market every year.