By Suad Al-Manji, Mohammad Al-Saidi, Elia J. Ayoub, Fuad Bateh, Muna Dajani, Marwa Daoudy (editor), Sharif S. Elmusa, Rebhy El Sheikh, Mohammed Mahmoud, Zeinab Shuker, and Neda Zawahri

Published on February 12, 2024

full downloadable pdf at


The importance of water increases substantially in arid and semi-arid regions, such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). North Africa is home to key transboundary water basins with significant differences in their rivers’ capacities to cope with drought, rising temperatures, and increasingly limited water supplies. Climate change adds a layer of insecurity, as it is causing protracted droughts, lower yields of food crops, sea-level rises, greater frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms, accelerated desertification, reduced snowpack, and increased human displacement from low-lying coastal areas. All of this has become quite evident in the region. The eastern Mediterranean experienced protracted droughts during the 2000s, and predictions of rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation have been borne out in recent years.

Indeed, extreme summer heat waves were recorded across the eastern Mediterranean and beyond in 2020 and 2021, with Iraq and several Gulf countries experiencing temperatures that surpassed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Flooding displaced people and caused damage in Egypt in 2020, and wildfires spread through parts of Lebanon and Syria in 2019 and 2020. As droughts increase in intensity and frequency, water resources, food security, and food production are adversely affected. The problem is exacerbated by unsustainable practices such as wasteful irrigation and the depletion of groundwater aquifers.

To address these issues, the chapters in this compendium examine the experiences of MENA states and populations beset by a combination of climate change, armed conflicts, and territorial occupation. Interactions over several key transboundary waters in the Gulf, the Mashreq (the eastern part of the Arab world), and North Africa are analyzed from the perspective of several countries enduring riparian and aquifer system problems: Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Each of the ten chapters highlight relevant inter-state relations over a shared basin/aquifer system or outline domestic interactions over water and environmental issues. The chapters address different aspects of growing friction between the climate and human security, including water and food insecurity, the spread of infectious diseases, the loss of livelihoods, and displacement. This compendium also shows that an exclusive focus on climate change obfuscates other important empirical drivers of water and food insecurity, including governmental policies regarding food, water, and land, as well as repressive systems in the form of authoritarian regimes, occupying powers, and/or hegemonic neighboring riparian states.

The first three entries in the compendium examine the experience of countries subjected to drastic climate change as well as domestic and or transboundary pressures. Zeinab Shuker argues that the water shortage in Iraq is a reflection of several factors: internal limitations, such as poor infrastructure, apparent corruption, and mismanagement; external pressures in the form of ongoing hydropower projects constructed upstream by Turkey and Iran; and worsening climate conditions. Left untreated, she writes, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the country’s two main rivers and together a primary resource of irrigation and drinking water, will go dry by 2040. Joey Ayoub explores the history of the Save Bisri Valley grassroots campaign in Lebanon, revealing the interplay between environmental concerns and broader sociopolitical movements, as demonstrated by some of the slogans raised during the 2019 protests that took place across the country. Climate change, writes Suad Al-Manji, has a powerful impact on Oman—with its dry climate, extreme temperatures, limited seasonal rainfall, and vast expanse of desert. Under threat are the country’s aquifers, which are also severely depleted by mass consumption; for the country to avoid a significant water crisis in the future, climate-proofing, or the preservation of groundwater through mitigation measures, is imperative.

The next five chapters examine the complexity of climate vulnerability in the context of armed conflict and territorial occupation. Neda Zawahri shows that in Syria, climate change, drought, weak government institutions, and the destruction of critical infrastructure over twelve years of war have contributed to water, food, and energy insecurities that have resulted in enormous human suffering. This dramatic humanitarian crisis was severely aggravated by the February 2023 earthquake in Türkiye and northwestern Syria. Muna Dajani shines a light on another part of Syria, the occupied Golan Heights. She examines the dispossession of the Jawlani community (Syrians who remained in the Golan Heights after it was occupied by Israel in the 1967 War) and reveals the counterinfrastructure strategies the Jawlanis have employed to resist domination and adapt to unfavorable political and climatic realities. Against a backdrop of climate change, Dajani argues, Israel continues to exercise control by promoting renewable energies in occupied territories in the name of green development. Moving on to another conflict, Mohammad Al-Saidi looks into Yemen’s current water scarcity, arguing that it stems from a governance crisis that has its roots in sustainability failures dating to the postindependence era. The country’s armed conflict, which began in 2015 and is ongoing, has exacerbated water and food insecurities and led to the widespread loss of livelihoods. The next two chapters look into the difficult environmental and socioeconomic conditions experienced by Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and siege in Gaza. The threat of climate change in Palestine, writes Sharif Elmusa, is particularly alarming, given that Israeli military rule and Jewish settlements leave West Bank Palestinians, who lack real autonomy, unable to adapt. Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza, explain Rebhy El Sheikh and Fuad Bateh, suffer from inequitable supply from the coastal aquifer as well as drastic restrictions on their water management and development, all because of Israel’s siege, which impedes their access to power, electricity, and critical rehabilitation materials. In the last decades, Israel has also targeted and destroyed their water and civilian infrastructures. One of the authors of this chapter, Rebhy El Sheikh, wrote his chapter from his hometown city of Gaza and completed it in exile following Israel’s massive onslaught on Gaza.

The final section of the compendium analyzes the role of transboundary negotiations over shared waters on dynamics of mutual conflict or cooperation, revealing different findings. In my chapter, I show how, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Israel has weaponized Palestinian access to the shared Mountain Aquifer as well as wastewater treatment and used the two issues as bargaining chips in negotiations. This weaponization has left Palestinians in the OPT under the triple threat of the loss of water supplies, groundwater contamination by wastewater, and increasing pressure wrought by climate change. In the compendium’s final entry, Mohammed Mahmoud argues that Sudan has the potential to act as an effective mediator between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s dam project in the Nile Basin, but he cautions that Sudan’s current internal conflict together with tense diplomatic relations between the three countries could prevent an agreement over the Nile waters.