A farmer in Morocco picks table grapes for export.
A farmer in Morocco picks table grapes for export. | Photo Credit: Jano Hatem / IWMI

MENA Rising Up to the Drought Challenge

By International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

There’s a misguided belief amongst some that climate change is “coming.” But, ask farmers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region who are witnessing more frequent droughts, and they will assure you that the change is well and truly here already.

With only two percent of the world’s renewable water supplies, MENA is the driest region in the world and home to 12 of the world’s most water-scarce countries. Soaring temperatures and evaporation rates, in addition to decreases in precipitation across the region, are creating extreme challenges to water and food security. MENAdrought, a USAID-supported project, is turning the tide of climate change by creating more resilient communities that can stay one step ahead of the next drought.

USAID’s recently launched 2022-2030 Climate Strategy aims to advance equitable and ambitious actions to confront the climate crisis. “The MENAdrought project falls perfectly in line with the new Climate Strategy,” says Sonia Massis, a water and environment specialist at the USAID’s Middle East Bureau. “The project confronts the climate crisis by assessing the vulnerability of communities to drought and then devising technology packages to detect and respond to it.”

MENAdrought also dovetails in well with the White House Action Plan on Global Water Security, which outlines an innovative approach to advancing water security both in the United States and globally. “Water insecurity strongly impacts the lives and livelihoods of people in MENA and can lead to unrest,” said Massis. “The Action Plan recognizes that drought drives migration, threatens food security, contributes to land degradation and biodiversity loss, depletes freshwater supplies, and impacts rural livelihoods and economic growth.”

With the support of USAID’s Middle East Bureau, MENAdrought pools the resources and expertise of global leaders in the field of drought monitoring, forecasting, and management. The project, led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), partners with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Johns Hopkins University.

MENAdrought is working hand-in-hand with government officials and policymakers in Morocco, Lebanon, and Jordan to deploy tools to predict, prepare for, respond to, and mitigate drought impacts. The project is helping these three countries build self-reliance in managing the impacts that droughts have on water and food security, and in turn limiting the social and economic losses resulting from these events. The experiences gathered in the three pilot countries can then be shared with all countries experiencing the challenges of drought.

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MENAdrought is built on a three-pillar approach to improve overall drought management. Those pillars include developing drought monitoring and early warning systems; conducting impact and vulnerability assessments; and elevating the importance of drought mitigation, response, and preparedness.

“We are focused on strengthening in-country capacity and locally led development to create an enabling environment so that countries can implement the latest digital data advances for improved drought management,” said Youssef Brouziyne, IWMI’s Regional Representative in the MENA region.

Drought experts do not have crystal balls to predict the next drought, but scientists working with MENAdrought have the next best thing. “We are increasingly able to look further into the future with the help of freely available data coming from earth observation satellites,” said Brouziyne “Countries can now get a three-month warning that drought is coming and that drought-readiness plans need to be enacted.”

In each of the three project countries, drought is unique and complex. IWMI is developing map-based monitoring systems using an enhanced-Composite Drought Index (eCDI). The Index exposes drought impacts on both irrigated and rainfed water resource systems and allows scientists to study past drought conditions and their impacts on agriculture as well as to monitor drought conditions. The governments now have policy plans to help them respond to drought once it is observed using the Index, and they also have forecasting tools to help them predict when drought is anticipated to occur and how it may evolve over time.

MENAdrought is developing water and agricultural technology packages that can help build resilience in areas that are most impacted by droughts. To enhance preparedness, the project team promotes working sessions and “writeshops” that bring together ideas, experiences, and insights from government officials to define the plans, decrees, policies, actions, roles, and responsibilities needed for drought response.

“By taking the data gathered from the early warning and monitoring systems, and overlaying it with the assessments on drought vulnerability, countries can take a coordinated systems approach to develop actions, policies, and plans that help them prepare for drought before it comes,” said Brouziyne. “It also means that they can prioritize actions to help those that are likely to be hardest hit first.”

“Today, we recognize the 2022 Desertification and Drought Day with its theme of Rising up from drought together,” said Rachael McDonnell, IWMI’s Deputy Director-General. “With the launch this month of USAID’s Climate Strategy and the White House Action Plan we feel that MENAdrought is well positioned to rise up to the challenges of drought as our global climate changes.”


Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco
Climate Strategy, Disaster Risk Management, Food Security, Vulnerability Assessment, Water and Sanitation
Africa, Middle East & North Africa

International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is an international, research-for-development organization that works with governments, civil society and the private sector to solve water problems in developing countries and scale up solutions. Through partnership, IWMI combines research on the sustainable use of water and land resources, knowledge services and products with capacity strengthening, dialogue and policy analysis to support implementation of water management solutions for agriculture, ecosystems, climate change and inclusive economic growth. Headquartered in Colombo, Sri Lanka, IWMI is a CGIAR Research Center with offices in 13 countries and a global network of scientists operating in more than 30 countries.

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