Published on Arab Voices

Natural resources in conflict: Supporting conflict-sensitive climate adaptation in MENA

Picture of hands holding a green globe. (Blue Planet Studio/ Picture of hands holding a green globe. (Blue Planet Studio/

The record-breaking heat events of this summer had severe impacts on the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, including wildfires, the aggravation of power outages, and added pressures on contested natural resources like water and land. In Iraq, protesters took the streets of Baghdad in July to denounce water and electricity scarcity, while reports from refugee camps in Lebanon and Yemen highlighted the health concerns resulting from insufficient access to safe water and proper sanitation for the populations living there.

As the World Bank MENA Climate Roadmap highlights, the region is highly vulnerable to climate change and is already facing the impacts of the climate crisis. It is witnessing worsening desertification and biodiversity loss, more frequent extreme weather events, as well as coastal erosion and sea level rise along the Mediterranean Coast. These changes threaten development gains, increase risks of food insecurity, and disrupt livelihoods. Economic sectors that rely on natural capital are already being impacted by the adverse effects of climate change. Tourism along the Mediterranean coast, for example, is a critical source of employment and plays a substantial role in national economies across the Maghreb, yet is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The populations of MENA countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) also face a double burden as they are exposed to compound climate-security risks. As emphasized in the report Defueling Conflict: Environment and Natural Resource Management as a Pathway to Peace, the coping capacities of individuals and institutions tend to be limited in FCV settings, rendering them more vulnerable to shocks. Climate stresses can therefore worsen the political and economic fragilities underlying these contexts. In Yemen, for example, ongoing conflict has decreased communities’ adaptative capacities and worsened resource mismanagement. In parallel, climate change can exacerbate water and food insecurity and is linked to outbreaks of local conflicts over access to natural resources that are especially critical to the food, fuel, and livelihoods of the most vulnerable. The climate and environmental situation is therefore one factor among others that is likely to accentuate the protracted nature of the conflict in the country.

Community-based approaches around sustainable Natural Resource Management (NRM) can provide opportunities to bypass these concerns and generate co-benefits at the intersection of climate adaptation, poverty reduction, and conflict and fragility prevention:

  • Community-based projects can be less vulnerable to the disruption caused by armed conflict than activities solely under public sector institutions. In addition, within World Bank operations, Community and Local Development programs have proved effective to reach remote or insecure areas in FCV-affected regions.
  • Locally led adaptation can ensure that projects respond to the most pressing needs of communities and avoid maladaptation.
  • Investments around NRM and adaptation can play a key role in revitalizing natural resource-based livelihoods in an environmentally sustainable way and reducing poverty. Ultimately, they can improve the resilience of communities to shocks and limit the knock-on impacts of climate change on fragility and conflicts.
  • These projects can also contribute to peacebuilding. Local interventions that build on and increase the resilience of local assets and institutions are necessary to break out of the conflict traps experienced in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Environment and NRM projects, if carefully designed, can be useful entry points to create sustainable economic opportunities and strengthen social cohesion. As a complement to state-level approaches, this kind of bottom-up engagement is critical for rebuilding the social fabric and human capital destroyed by war. 

For these interventions to yield benefits, it is essential that they adopt a conflict-sensitive approach to NRM. Conflict sensitivity is grounded in the recognition that interventions are not neutral and might exacerbate or perpetuate underlying tensions. Paying attention to the differentiated impacts of conflict and climate change, for example on women or marginalized groups, as well as anticipating and mitigating the negative consequences for these groups are critical to that end. 

Following MENA Climate Week, practitioners can think creatively about ways to respond to the existing gap between climate vulnerability and access to climate financing. Defueling Conflict crowds-in resources for practitioners working toward conflict-sensitivity in natural resource management. Among these are a questionnaire provided in Defueling Conflict which NRM projects can use to improve understanding of the environment-fragility-conflict nexus from project design through implementation. 


Elise Doumergue

Consultant for Project, "Environmental Peacebuilding in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations" project

Phoebe Spencer

Environmental Economist, Middle East and North Africa

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