The pace of environmental change in the Arab region may be faster than in the rest of the world due to growing populations and increasing environmental pressures, according to a new report released on December 10.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), supported by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) released TheArab Region: Atlas of Our Changing Environment.
The Atlas examines the environmental change that has taken place at more than 80 locations across the Arab region, using a combination of on-the-ground photographs, current and historical satellite images, with a narrative based on extensive scientific evidence.
“Before-and-after” studies in the atlas clearly demonstrate the pace of development in the region, offering compelling examples of wide-ranging environmental change, including land use change, urban growth, degradation of marine and coastal areas, altered hydrology and shrinking water bodies, loss of habitats and impacts of climate change.
The Atlas images serve to highlight the distinctive environmental circumstances and challenges faced in the Arab region, from limited freshwater resources, rapid urbanization, depletion of natural resources, and the vulnerability of many Arab settlements to environmental risks and natural disasters.
For example, water scarcity is a key environmental issue in 19 of the 22 countries. Very low and highly variable annual rainfall makes the region particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, and per-capita water availability is expected to halve by 2050. Coupled with increases in temperature, these changes will intensify pressure on natural and physical systems.
Desertification and land degradation afflicts 17 of the countries, placing limited arable lands at further risk (only 14.5 per cent of the total land area is arable). This can cause transboundary issues such as food insecurity and human migration.
Biodiversity is declining due to habitat degradation and loss. The total number of known threatened species in the region stands at 1,746, with a majority of them critically endangered.
Many of these major issues are interrelated and most are a direct consequence of increasing populations and environmental conditions associated with climate change.
Additionally, the Arab region is subject to a variety of natural hazards-the arid to hyper-arid climate lends itself to frequent drought, which is the region’s most-pressing natural hazard.
Between 1980 and 2008, droughts, earthquakes,floods and storms affected more than 37 million people in the region and caused damage estimated at US$20 billion.
The Arab region has faced 276 disaster events in the past 25 years and more than 40 per cent of these natural disasters occurred in the past five years.
The Atlas brings to light stories of these environmental changes through images showing visual evidence of changes taking place in the land, water and atmosphere, and covering trans-boundary issues like river basins, transboundary conservation areas and pollutants. It also illustrates how humans have positively or negatively altered their surroundings and continue to make observable and measurable changes to the Arab region and its environment.
Although the challenges depicted are striking, the atlas examines the opportunities that these challenges present, as well as some of the innovative responses that are being implemented in the region.
For example, many Arab nations have established special institutions for environmental management and sustainable development, and improvements in health and education create building blocks for accelerating this sustainable development.
The Atlas also shedslight on the unique environmental issues faced by each country, and tracks the individual progress each is making towards achieving the goal of Ensuring Environmental Sustainability, as part of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.
Aimed at environmental policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, academics, teachers and the public, the atlas will bring local-level changes to the attention of global audiences and support improved decision-making and policy formulation for a more sustainable future.
The Atlasis the latest addition to a series of atlases coordinated by UNEP that began in 2005 with the launch of a global atlas - “One Planet, Many People.” This new atlas is an important addition to the growing suite of UNEP atlases that aim to contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of environmental change.
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