International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Climate Change and Human Security in the GCC:
Implications for Vulnerability, Policy Response and Sustainable Development
of the Affected Populace to Hydrological Changes in Saudi Arabia

Abdulaziz M. Al-Bassam1 & Andy S. Spiess2

1Abdulaziz M. Al-Bassam: College of Science, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia

2 University of Hamburg, Department of Economics and Policy, Center for International Relations, Germany
GCC Network for Drylands Research and Development (NDRD)
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Global Environmental Change, of which climate change is only one key element, will alter living conditions for future generations and therefore remains a crucial policy issue. While a set of biophysical transformations, driven both by human activities and natural processes, affect the quality of human life on a worldwide scale, the socio-economic and environmental consequences of progressive hydrological changes in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region are profound. Research on the human consequences of drylands ecologies shows that they are due at least as much to the social systems that produce vulnerability as to environmental changes themselves. It has demonstrated that anthropogenic causes, such as overexploitation of water resources, are determined by population growth, demographic shifts, economic and technological development, cultural forces, values and beliefs, institutions and governance structures as well as the interactions among all these underlying driving factors.
Rainfall scarcity and variability coupled with high evaporation rates have characterized the Arabian Peninsula with extremely limited surface water and renewable groundwater sources. While facing the most severe water shortages in the world, mismanagement and the continuous deterioration of its natural water resources have been significant as well. Illustrative for the region, Saudi Arabia is already using large quantities of non-renewable fossil groundwater, to meet mainly agricultural irrigation requirements, with continuous deterioration in quantity and quality.
To meet rising demands, Saudi water authorities had sought to enhance water supply through a number of policies and therefore focused their commendable efforts mainly on the development and supply augmentation aspects of water resources management. While accomplishing progress in the area of water and sanitation by meeting the increased demand of household usage through desalination plants and expanding the water network, they failed to adopt the necessary far reaching and multisectoral approach of a sustainable water policy reform.
The situation was further aggravated by the typical institutional weaknesses, found in most developing countries: Multiplication and overlap of water agencies, absence of effective coordination and participatory decision-making processes, lack of collaboration and partnerships, lack of well-defined national research strategies, inadequate institutional capacity building and enabled society. As substantial pressures due to exponential population growth on the region's water resources converge, research on the human dimensions of a potential devastating water shortage becomes quite urgent. However, many independent organizations that produce social research are still regarded as antagonists to the government rather than useful collaborators and in this respect often limit their ability to produce critical information. As a consequence, government decision-making tends to operate in isolation from socio-political research results, leading to inefficient policies.
The general objective of this paper is to reposition the climate change debate in Saudi Arabia within the context of human security. It will outline the implications of socioeconomic uncertainties in regard to the changes in the hydrological cycle and determine on how it interacts with the complex and rapidly changing socio-political environment that ultimately determines the security of individuals and the nation. The adoption of comprehensive policies and strategies for integrated water resources management and active implementation needs to address these key issues, taking into consideration the specific requirements and the prevailing social, economic, and cultural conditions of the region.