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Natural capital leaks away

West Asia also faces increasing pressures on its biodiversity. Infrastructure expands in all scenarios (see chart below), destroying and fragmenting the region's ecosystems. These pressures lead to steady decline in populations of wild species, a growing list of threatened species and an overall and continual loss of biodiversity. These trends are counteracted to some degree in Policy First and Sustainability First circumstances by implementing land use management plans to reduce human pressures on natural ecosystems. Other counter measures include legislation protecting biodiversity and endangered species as well as regulating the introduction of foreign and genetically modified organisms. Only slower economic growth in Security First keeps the expansion of infrastructure and its impacts below that of Markets First.

Other problems, particularly climate change, join with these pressures to diminish natural capital in the region in all scenarios. In Policy First, present efforts to enlarge protected areas continue and may reach international targets. In addition, regional cooperation and transboundary reserves are established between neighbouring countries. Public awareness is stimulated through botanical gardens and museums. These efforts go further in Sustainability First where there is greater local control of resources. The extent of protected areas reaches target levels, halting depletion of biological resources. Furthermore, the region witnesses an increase in cooperative regional research, investment and sustainable use of genetic and biological resources through the use of advanced technology. However, even here the efforts are not enough to fully counteract the effects of changing climate (see chart).

Land area impacted by infrastructure expansion: West Asia (% of total land area)

Source: GLOBIO (see technical annex)

Natural Capital Index: West Asia

An index of 100 is the situation when total land area is undomesticated and all pressures are below the minimum threshold (see technical annex). Reduction in the Natural Capital Index indicates habitat loss and increasing pressure on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Biodiversity is severely impacted between 2002 and 2032 in all scenarios, but especially under Security First.

Source: IMAGE 2.2 (see technical annex)

The somewhat slower onset of climate change in Markets First means that the losses to natural capital are somewhat less than in Policy First and Security First. In Security First, the introduction of foreign and genetically modified species carries on unregulated, posing a major additional threat to indigenous species in the region. Moreover, efforts already under way become increasingly ineffective under declining economic and environmental conditions and food insecurity. Significantly, many indigenous biological resources in the region could be completely lost.

Key to charts
Energy-related nitrogen oxide emissions: West Asia (million tonnes nitrogen)
Source: IMAGE 2.2 (see technical annex)

Differences in population growth, urban planning and zoning, rural area development and the situation of refugees all influence the level, type and impact of urbanization across the region. Rapid unplanned urbanization and high population concentrations caused by rapid population growth, rural to urban migration and the increase in refugee numbers are factors in both Markets First and Security First. All have negative environmental and health consequences in terms of local air pollution (see chart), add to waste production and encourage encroachment on limited agricultural and recreational areas. Basic healthcare, sanitation and infrastructure facilities fail to cope.

More effective urban planning and zoning prevail in Policy First and Sustainability First scenarios. Rural to urban migration is reduced conspicuously by well-planned integrated development of rural areas. In Sustainability First, rural area development includes environmental considerations to minimize encroachment and loss of agricultural and recreational lands, stimulating some reverse migration. Finally, in the Mashriq, the environmental and health problems associated with refugee centres are solved as part of the resolution of conflicts in the region.

Associated with the differences in land use and freshwater management, as well as other developments, the scenarios also differ in their implications for coastal and marine areas. Under the Policy First and Sustainability First scenarios, member states in the Arabian Gulf ratify the Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) 73/78 and other established protocols, establish waste oil reception facilities and declare the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME) Sea Area a Special Area, which reduces oil pollution significantly. The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities is strictly implemented, controlling and significantly reducing sewage releases into the sea.

Population living with hunger: West Asia (million persons)

All the pie charts show total region impacts. The top left pie shows the current situation, the relative size of the others reflects the magnitude of impacts by 2032 under the four scenarios. Average incomes rise in all regions, contributing to a drop in the percentage of the population that is hungry, but in Markets First and Security First, the benefits of growth are not enough to offset the growth in population and the total number of people affected by food shortages.

Source: PoleStar (see technical annex)

Population living with hunger: West Asia (%)
Source: PoleStar (see technical annex)
Key to charts


These environmental trends, along with more broadly distributed economic growth and effective social policies, are reflected in the incidence of hunger in the region (see charts above). In both Markets First and Security First, the levels of hunger are still near 10 per cent in 2032. In the Markets First scenario, relatively high inequality persists, limiting the improvements that can be achieved from economic growth. In the Security First scenario, divergent income distributions worsen the situation even more. Combined with the population growth, the numbers of persons experiencing hunger increase by half in Markets First and approximately double in Security First. In Policy First and Sustainability First, a combination of relatively high economic growth and comparatively equitable income distributions leads to a sharp drop in the percentage hungry, as well as in the total.

Imagine ... a major seven-year drought in West Asia

An extended drought occurs, starting late in the first decade of the century. A significant drop in groundwater resources has affected major aquifers in the region since the mid-1990s. Growing scarcity of irrigation and clean drinking water in the Mashriq sub-region leads to more dependency on food imports in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and proliferation of hunger and poverty in Mashriq countries and Yemen. As approximately 60 per cent of surface water resources in the region originate from outside, the potential exists for disagreements to escalate between countries over shared and depleted water resources.

In the case of ...

Markets First
  • Water resources policies focusing almost exclusively on 'supply augmentation' prove unwise in this drought-prone region. There is some movement towards demand management but this is not implemented quickly enough to avert major water shortages.
  • There is mass dependency on desalination facilities in GCC countries.
  • Cash crops in irrigated areas are halved, resulting in major deficits in locally grown food.
  • New, genetically engineered, more drought-tolerant crops are introduced.
  • Water-related health problems proliferate.
Policy First
  • Sweeping institutional reforms strengthen authorities in charge of water resources management.
  • An existing policy focus on demand management, conservation and protection makes it relatively easy to introduce prompt additional measures that help eke out water supplies while drought conditions persist.
  • Remedial instruments and programmes are introduced, including water pricing mechanisms, awareness and education campaigns, legislation to strengthen powers of enforcement, measures to boost the management of marginal waters, and codes to enable efficient water resources allocation among competing economic sectors.
  • Economic integration and regional cooperation help modify agricultural policies in the Arabian Peninsula and reduce water consumption in the agricultural sector.
  • Temporary agreements deal with the problems of shared water resources and help enhance regional stability.
Security First
  • Competition and conflicts between sectors and users increase, leading to social unrest.
  • There are widespread signs of increase in the rate of desertification and deterioration of biological resources combined with extinction of some species due to over-hunting and habitat destruction.
  • Water-related health problems proliferate.
  • Political instability and conflicts in the region mount, leading to open war over water resources, threatening regional and international stability.
Sustainability First
  • Strategic regional water resource and river basin management planning reduce impacts of drought, in turn enhancing the efficiency of water use, resource protection and water resources augmentation.
  • Major institutional reforms further consolidate the authority of water resources management bodies. Previous policy shifts in favour of 'demand management and conservation' ease the way for additional measures to eke out water supplies.
  • More freshwater is made available by desalination technology in the GCC countries, increasingly using alternative and renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to run desalination plants.
  • There is widespread application of biotechnology to crop production, to boost drought resistance and yields.
  • More equitable sharing of surface and groundwater resources is achieved as riparian countries sign and ratify treaties to that effect. This process is helped by the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The lessons
Developments not directly related to the environment, such as improvements in regional cooperation, can have a major impact on environmental issues. Similarly, the ways in which one environmental issue is tackled can have significant impacts on others, for instance the choice of renewable energy sources to power desalinization works reduces fossil-fuel burning. Experience and adoption of a mixed set of policy instruments allows greater flexibility to react swiftly in times of unexpected and increased environmental stress.