Using Innovation to Address Climate Change-Related Water Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa

World Water Day 2021 focuses on what water means to people. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), water is a vital – and finite – resource. Climate change will have devastating consequences on MENA’s water, agriculture, and people in the coming decades. Dr. Amgad Elmahdi, International Water Management Institute’s Director of MENA Region and WE4F’s MENA RIH Policy and Advocacy Specialist, explores how innovations can help mitigate the effects of climate change on water and promote resiliency throughout the region.

In the five years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reports by UN-Water show that the “world is off-track” to achieve the SDGs, particularly SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation for All. At a time when there are only nine years left until their conclusion in 2030, the lack of progress is incredibly concerning.

 Nowhere are the challenges of growing climate and environmental stress in conjunction with ever-evolving political and  socioeconomic dynamics more apparent than in the MENA region. Deteriorating conditions put intense pressure on economies, societies, and water, food, and land systems. Water scarcity is a result of the region’s natural aridity, a growing water demand, and resource mismanagement. This scarcity poses a major constraint on livelihoods, food production, and prosperity in most of the region. In fact, at this point there is no room for “business as usual” in the region’s efforts to preserve its precious water resources.  For nine consecutive years, water scarcity has been listed by Global Shapers and the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report as one of the top risks, in terms of impact.

The MENA region’s surface and groundwater resources have reached critical limits, even strategic reserves have been drawn upon during recent drought years in North African countries. Delays in the start of the rainfall season and increasing drought frequency due to climate change, are causing groundwater systems, food production, and rural livelihoods to already be impacted and deteriorated.

Like most regions, MENA’s water-energy-food nexus is complex. For instance:

  • Agriculture is the engine of food security. It is an important source of employment for poor people and the largest water-user in the MENA region. The region also uses energy to extract water by pumping and diverting/transferring it through water canals for use.
  • Food systems must become more sustainable and resilient. As competition for water intensifies, a transformation is needed to better meet the nutritional needs of growing populations without undermining the landscapes and ecosystems on which they depend.
  • Digital technology and innovation empowers the transformation of the food, water and energy systems. Competition for water, food, and energy has driven and encouraged innovation and partnership throughout ecosystems’ stakeholders and technologies.
  • There is no “one size fits all” approach to solving WEF nexus challenges. Several organizations have innovated in the ways they work to address this nexus issue. There are  numerous examples of technological innovation, among them are  precision agriculture, renewable energy systems, and water efficiency, reuse, and recycling technologies.

When the MENA Regional Innovation Hub (RIH) launched in 2020, the call for nexus action resonated louder than ever before. There was a specific focus  by the most vulnerable populations in MENA to meet regional food production needs, in times of multilevel crises. The RIH promotes a fresh approach to address challenges faced in the MENA region. By working towards achieving countries’ SDGs swiftly and sustainably, all while never losing sight of local needs and priorities, RIH innovators can help end-users grow more food with less water and energy. The approach capitalizes on the power of markets to create paradigm shifts and move the water, energy and food sectors in the direction of sustainable growth. By supporting and scaling local enterprises, the RIH contributes to climate resilient agriculture, sustainable water and energy use, job creation, gender equality, poverty reduction, and value addition in both local communities and economies.

If you’re interested in working with the MENA RIH to help the region get back on track with achieving the SDGs and developing a more sustainable and resilient water-energy-food nexus, contact them at