Bassel Daher, Ph.D.

Fragility has become a prevailing reality in an increasing number of countries in various areas, including Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) [1]. The concept of fragility encompasses a range of dimensions, including armed conflict, migration, economic and political instability, erosion of the social fabric, and scarcity, depletion, and contamination of natural resources [2]. The World Economic Forum’s recent survey data highlights the significant risks the region is least prepared to face, with water crises ranking among the top risks, followed by profound social instability, state collapse, and interstate conflict [3]. These risks are all interconnected with situations of fragility posing existential threats to the prosperity and well-being of millions of people living in the region.

The CWANA region, which spans a vast area across Central and West Asia and North Africa including all countries covered by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN ESCWA), features a wide array of human cultures and agroecological systems. What unifies this area are its relative semi-arid and arid conditions, which are anticipated to amplify due to ongoing climate change [4]. The region is expected to experience an increase in the severity and frequency of high temperatures, droughts, rainfall extremes, floods, climate variability, and compound events, which will have significant consequences for society and the environment [5-7]. These challenges are further exacerbated by a rapidly growing population and varying levels of economic growth [8], conflict and instability, environmental vulnerabilities, as well as the pressing issues of migration, displacement, and refugees [9]. All of these factors collectively impact the region’s interconnected resource systems. The region’s ageold resource scarcity challenges are being intensified by the growing demand for water, land, food, and energy, coupled with the effects of climate change, inter-sectoral competition, and urbanization [10]. The consequences of these pressures are far-reaching and deeply intertwined, impacting not only the availability of resources, but also the socio-economic fabric and political stability of the region.

Amidst economic disparities between countries and inequalities within them, there is a tendency to prioritize short-term reactive strategies that often fail to address underlying causes and vulnerabilities, thereby contradicting efforts to promote long-term sustainability. Unfortunately, these strategies can often perpetuate a vicious cycle, further exacerbating pressures on natural resource systems, amplifying the risk of social and political instability, geopolitical conflict, irreparable environmental damage, and reducing food security [11]. It is evident that a new approach is required to address these complex challenges holistically and to build resilience in fragile and conflict-affected agrifood systems.

Fragility highlights the compelling need for countries to prioritize inclusive investments in resilience building, given its profound social and economic ramifications [12]. Addressing fragility requires directing resources towards pre-emptive measures that mitigate and prevent fragility and promote longterm, sustainable development and adaptation. This contrasts with the considerable cost incurred through the recurrence of crises and reactive responses and recovery strategies in the past.

Despite the tight interconnectedness of resource systems, current resource management and allocation practices in CWANA are predominantly conducted using a sector-based siloed approach, further exacerbating the challenges faced [13]. This fragmented approach to managing water, energy, and food security compromises the region’s ability to meet its development targets and exacerbates vulnerabilities. Moreover, it leads to inequitable access to resources and undermines gender equality and the sustainability of development initiatives [14]. A systems approach is a prerequisite to addressing these complex challenges sustainably. The interconnectivity of water, energy, and food underscores the importance of minimizing negative trade-offs, exploring synergies, and promoting integration in the planning, management, and utilization of scarce and depleted resources [15-17].

Adopting a nexus approach offers a comprehensive framework for addressing the multifaceted challenges encountered by local communities and ecosystems. This integrated approach, engaging stakeholders at various scales, empowers vulnerable segments of society with distinct needs and resources, fostering a more inclusive and effective response. To effectively implement a nexus approach, it is essential to develop enabling environments and effective institutional arrangements and mechanisms that allow for cross-sectoral coordination and planning [18]. This approach fosters the integration of policies and practices across different sectors, such as water, energy, agriculture, and environment, and ensures that decisions are based on robust evidence and synergies. By embracing a systems approach and investing in enabling environments, the CWANA region can enhance its overall resilience, improve its ability to rapidly respond to and recover from future shocks and disturbances, and create a sustainable and prosperous future for its people.

This policy brief presents a conceptual framework including seven strategic action areas which constitute key elements of the enabling environment needed to improve the resilience of agrifood systems in fragile or conflict-affected contexts. The policy brief explores key barriers and proposed actions under each of these strategic action areas in the context of CWANA countries facing natural resource and conflict-induced fragility.

Link to policy brief 

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