Environmental Factors in the MENA Region: A SWOT Analysis

The MENARA study area has undergone significant transformation over twenty years decades, resulting from a combination of ideational and material factors. In this report, we examine the magnitude, distribution and trends in key environmental and energy factors that materially affect the economic, social and political profile of the MENA region. We do this by conducting a geographical analysis and by building a web-based policy support system for understanding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) at scales from pixel through regional to national considering environment, water, energy, food, economy and population, which we call the MENARA policy support system (PSS). It is a tool for scanning the horizon to identify material threats, opportunities and choke points that may precipitate conflict, and it is designed to help thinking through locally appropriate policy responses. The MENARA PSS enables better understanding of material factors (climate, population, landscape, energy), which combine with elements of governance, politics and ideology to shape regions and determine trajectories of change at scales from local to global. We use the tool, combined with literature review and other available data, in order to examine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats throughout the Middle East and North Africa (the MENARA study area) and in greater spatial detail for the country of Syria. Analyses indicate a complex pattern of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that produce challenges at the local scale, at the regional scale and, for some countries, also at the national scale. No one strength, weakness, opportunity or threat dominates, as different regions within each country have different SWOTs and different countries are affected by different magnitudes and types of SWOT. Understanding material factors and using them to generate a geographical prognosis at multiple scales for a region enables us to set the context for later ideational research in this region as part of the MENARA project. Ideational factors, after all, combine with material factors to generate trajectories for change which shape regions and their people. It is not the purpose of this report to analyse relationships between these environmental factors and conflict or ideational factors: by providing an easily used environmental policy support system, we provide the tools by which local, national and regional experts may do that. The MENARA tool can be used by anyone with a web browser and knowledge of the region to dig deeper into these relationships, and should be useful both within the MENARA project and outside the MENARA project in a policy support context.

Roma, IAI, November 2017, 39 p.
Working Papers 4
Publication date: 

Study Area
1. An Introductory Geographical Analysis of Material Factors for the MENA Region
1.1 Climate
1.2 Land Use
1.3 Water
1.4 Agriculture and Food
1.5 Natural Hazards
1.6 The Role of Spatial Concentration of Environmental and Social Material Factors
2. A Comprehensive SWOT Analysis for the MENARA Study Area
2.1 Prognosis
2.2 Most Significant Prognostic
3. Conclusions: Potential Environmental Choke Points for Economic and Societal Development
3.1 Concentration of Pressure and Lack of Infrastructure as a Threat to Governance
3.2 Key Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, with their Implications
4. Going Forward

Research area