Challenges in the Arab States

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UNDP in Yemen

As confirmed in the recently published UNDP Arab Development Challenges Report, sustainable use of natural resources is a serious long-term development challenge facing the Arab region. There are three overarching environmental challenges in the region: 

  • Decreasing water availability is an issue that affects all sectors – from agriculture, in which one-third of the region’s labor force is employed, to poverty and economic health, since the privatization of water impacts the poor and vulnerable first and foremost, to overall environmental health and sustainability.  Water scarcity in the region is impacted by water use inefficiency, depletion of groundwater resources, and a growing human population.
  • Decreasing arable and productive land, combined with land degradation, desertification, and urbanization, poses an additional challenge to agricultural sustainability – and thus to farmers livelihoods and to food security, and to environmental health and sustainability.  The region imports more than two-thirds of its food needs.
  • Climate change is predicted, among other consequences, to reduce precipitation in the region by at least 20 per cent in the next thirty years; however, it has yet to be given the seriousness from policy makers that it deserves.  Climate change is also a threat multiplier; it will have serious impacts upon water and food security, health care, and even national security.

In the midst of these serious threats to livelihoods, human health, and environmental welfare, there have been increasing efforts and attempts to rectify the situation.  The region is blessed with significant natural wealth in renewable energy, particularly solar power.  Not only is this natural wealth significant in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it is also important in providing access to energy services since, currently, approximately 40 per cent of the poor in the region do not have adequate access to energy services. 

Investments in renewable energy have already started, including solar home systems in Morocco and Tunisia, wind farms in Egypt, and Masdar city in United Arab Emirates.  Discussions on mega projects on renewable energy between Europe and North Africa are underway (Desertec and Mediterranean Solar Plan are two examples). International public climate finance for adaptation and mitigation present potential further opportunities to support the transition of the development in Arab States towards a low-emission and climate-resilient development.

How we address these challenges

UNDP strengths national capacity to support sustainable, low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathways and advance poverty reduction efforts. Among the UNDP Regional Centre in Cairo’s environmental work are the following themes: climate change adaptation and mitigation (including climate finance), sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services, policy assessment through the sustainable livelihood framework, integrated waste management tools and policies, and equitable, rights-based-access to environmental resources and services.

For example, within climate change, UNDP works to make climate finance transformational, which means supporting the transition to low-emission and climate-resilient development. In this vision, readiness for transformative climate finance includes four components: Financial planning (assessing needs and priorities and formulation of low-emission and climate-resilient development strategies), accessing finance (direct access, catalyzing private finance, formulation of projects and programs), delivering finance (implementation and execution) and monitoring, reporting and verifying.

UNDP can build capacity and strengthen policy tools, institutional capacities and technical skills under the four components at the national and local level to improve the ability of countries to plan for, access, deliver and report on climate finance. By building readiness in national capacities, UNDP is improving the chance that climate finance will be more effective, catalytic and transformative at the national level.

The sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services is essential for realizing a sustainable development. Priorities in the Arab region relate to ecosystems that are fragile and vulnerable to climate change and at the same time present the foundation of local livelihoods. This is true for rainfed-agriculture and rangelands cross Arab countries and for forest ecosystems.

UNDP-GEF has taken the lead over nearly two decades in developing the capabilities of countries to reduce biodiversity loss and engineer sustainable ecosystem management.  “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Management into Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Production Process in Lebanon” and the Oasis project in Morocco are two indicative examples of UNDP support to ecosystem management and sustainable development in the region.


Arab Development Challenges Report 2011

This second Development Challenges Report, coming at a time when the region is passing through a critical historical juncture, attempts to go beyond the numbers to uncover processes that have underpinned mutually reinforcing drivers of social, economic and political exclusion. This report argues that the development model followed in the Arab region can be placed on a more socially just foundation

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Annual Report
The Sustainable Future We Want

UNDP has decades of concrete development experience in countries ranging from fragile States to middle-income countries like Brazil and Indonesia. This, combined with our four focus areas, make us uniquely situated and qualified to answer the UN’s call for a better and more sustainable future.

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