Properties on the Gulf and North African coast face risk from climate change

Rising sea levels and scarcity of water are the major challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa and need to be addressed by developers, according to a United Nations report to be published next month.

Property built along the coast could be a risk in low lying areas. Those most at risk include the coastline in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, said Margereta Wahlstrom, the UN's Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Speaking during the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference, she said that expert engineering skills could help the infrastructure remain intact since shifting it in its entirety was a costly option.

The risks will be fully explained when the UNISDR launch's its first report on disaster risk reality in the Middle East and North Africa drawn from the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Reduction in Bahrain on May 17.

The report is the first of its kind in the region and will explore the effect of urbanisation on climate, the eco system and environmental risks in the region. It will also look at convergence between poverty and disaster risks.

The Middle East is highly prone to earthquakes, storms, droughts and water shortages.

'Following the devastating tsunami, the cyclone Gonu in Oman in 2007 was a wakeup call for the region,' said Wahlstrom.

Over the last 28 years, approximately 37 million people in the Arab region have been affected by droughts, floods and storms while Arab economies have lost some $19 billion in the same period.

'Since cyclic droughts are already affecting Iraq, Oman, Bahrain and Morocco, water management should be given top priority in the region. It is a scarce and expensive commodity that is not renewable forever,' she explained.

But the experts are confident that the region can rise to the challenges of climate change. While it is only less than two years since regional governments have started paying attention to climatic changes, the response is rapid, Wahlstrom added. Climatic risks have been assessed and key regional policies have been forged in the region to manage any impending disaster, she said and this could lead to a sustainable future.

'The Gulf region has resources, wealth and political determination; therefore, I think this region can play a major role in sustaining natural resources,' she concluded.