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Arab conflict zones missing out on climate funds: aid groups

Rural areas are being deserted, including the village of Al-Bouzayad, where the main irrigation canal has completely dried up
— Dubai (AFP)

Conflict-plagued countries in the Middle East are among the most vulnerable to climate change but are almost entirely excluded from meaningful financing to mitigate its effects, aid groups warned Thursday.

In a joint report focusing on Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Norwegian Red Cross demanded greater assistance, saying the combined effects of climate change and armed conflict create an alarming cocktail of humanitarian woes.

The Climate Funds Update database, which collates information from 27 UN, World Bank and other multilateral funds, listed only 19 single-country projects in Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have been approved for funding as of January 2022, the report said.

It noted the total amount disbursed to date is just $20.6 million –- less than 0.5 percent of the money spent on climate projects worldwide.

"Current climate finance distributions almost entirely exclude the most fragile and unstable places," said the 56-page report.

Drought and low water levels in the Euphrates River in the western countryside of Tabqa in Syria

"It's clear from a humanitarian perspective that this must change," said Anne Bergh, secretary-general of the Norwegian Red Cross.

Grappling with an eight-year civil war, the University of Notre Dame's Global Adaptation Initiative ranks Yemen as one of the region's most climate-vulnerable countries, topped only by Sudan and Afghanistan.

"In Yemen, it is not uncommon for people to flee their homes seeking safety from conflict only to then leave that new location because the land cannot be farmed" due to drought and water scarcity, the ICRC said in a statement.

- 'Terrible combination' -

The United Nations lists Iraq, still recovering from decades of conflict, as one of the five countries most impacted by some effects of climate change including drought.

Syria is also at heightened risk following more than a decade of war that has battered the country's infrastructure.

"Death, injury and destruction are the devastating and well-known effects of armed conflict," ICRC regional director Fabrizio Carboni said in a statement.

"Less well-known are the challenges residents must endure and overcome because of this terrible combination of conflict, climate change and environmental degradation."

Climate finance is expected to be a key issue at upcoming UN climate talks, which will be held in the United Arab Emirates' business hub of Dubai in November and December.

Helena de Jong, a senior adviser with the UAE's COP28 team, said she was looking into ways to accelerate climate action and finance ahead of the event into regions affected by conflict.

COP28 offers an opportunity to talk to climate finance providers, including development banks such as the World Bank as well as humanitarian bodies, she said.

"We do want to see a big step forward at COP28," potentially in the "form of a global pact that all these actors would sign up to", de Jong said.

The proposed pact "would include at least a couple of solutions" such as streamlining applications and enabling more local projects rather than relying on government-driven schemes, she added.