Climate Change and Water Resources in the Mediterranean Region: New Challenges for Agriculture

by Noureddin Driouech (ELP 2012) and Nicola Lamaddalena (CIHEAM-Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari - Italy)

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The world's water supply is being strained by climate change and the growing food, energy and sanitary needs of a fast-growing population. A recent United Nations study called for a radical reassessment of policies to manage competing claims. The Sixth Water Forum and the Rio +20 summit reaffirmed that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and highlighted water among the seven areas and critical issues that need to be prioritized.

Image icon400px-drought-200x300_2.jpgMost Mediterranean countries, particularly the arid and semi-arid ones, are chronically water-stressed. Population growth, urbanization, development progress as well as climate change impacts will all continue to exacerbate that stress and result in enormous pressure on available water resources. It is also well recognized that a water crisis is, in many ways, a crisis of governance as it is a failure of institutions to manage water resources for the well-being of humans and ecosystems (Hamdy, 2012). In the Mediterranean basin, the effects of climate change on water resources are related both to an increase in evaporation volumes and a change in the water soil content. Reduced water flow in the Mediterranean region is a consequence of smaller inflow from melting snow and dependence on the rainfall regime.

At present, Mediterranean agricultural production covers almost 40 percent of arable land and since climate considerably affects the crop growing cycles, significant climate changes might unquestionably cause serious effects on the economic system in all those countries where agriculture is the primary sector. Although uncertainties in hydro-meteorological data do exist because of differences in data acquisition systems and difficulties in data surveying in some areas (i.e. mountain and ocean areas), it is important to make a thorough analysis of climate scenarios in the Mediterranean basin.

Image iconMaplecroft-Water-Stress-I-007-300x207_2.jpgTo understand how climate change influences crops, concerns on the increase in CO2 are inevitable. Climatic conditions determine the evaporative demand whereas the response to it depends on crop cover and the water status of the soil. Nevertheless, with future rainfall patterns being uncertain, the calculation of the future crop water requirements is uncertain as well. Also, the effects of climate change on coastal areas of the Mediterranean have to be carefully considered. The problem of coastal erosion caused by natural conditions and human activities has to be tackled. The sea level rise, for instance, will cause a six percent loss of land in Italy and the disappearance of half of present wetlands in Europe. Increased urbanization and deforestation make the coastal situation even worse. This is a critical matter for about 50-80 percent of European inhabitants of the Mediterranean that permanently live along the strip of 60 km from the coast.

A solution to the problem can be found through innovative integrated water resource management based on demand management and implemented through technical and non-technical interventions. There are many aspects to this approach including:

  • Users’ participation in management activities;
  • Monitoring of water bodies and better control;
  • Use of high efficiency irrigation methods;
  • Optimization of water consumption in view of optimizing water use productivity;
  • Use of adequately monitored unconventional waters; and
  • Adaptation of capacity building and implementation capacities of agricultural policies.

Image iconOliveWoodTrees-300x225_2.gifIt is to be hoped that climate change and water issues will not be affected by the present economic-financial crisis with the result of countries withdrawing into nationalistic attitudes as this will result in a failure. Rather, it is important that all countries, including Mediterranean countries, open up, integrate and create increasing synergies based on common rules and objectives shared by all the countries to adequately address climate change and water issues.

For more information regarding climate change and water resources in the Mediterranean region contact CIHEAM-IAMB referent Nicola Lamaddalena at