Waed Al-Delaimy (UCSD) and Margaret Handley (UCSF)

New center addresses global climate change impacts on water, energy, food and health systems

A new three-year program called the Global Center on Climate Change, Water, Energy, Food, and Health Systems – led by the University of California San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and supported by an international consortium of community organizations and universities that includes UC San Francisco – will address the impacts of climate change in the climate-vulnerable communities in Jordan’s Azraq Basin.

Jordan is ranked second among countries with the lowest access to water and is expected to reach the water insecurity designation by 2030. Within the country, the most water-deprived communities live in the Northeast region of Mafraq’s Azraq Basin, which is also home to approximately 120,000 resettled Syrian refugees.

The Middle East will likely be the epicenter of the health impacts of climate change, as the most water scarce-region, the area with the highest records of extreme heat, and with extreme disparity between very poor and very affluent communities and political instability among many of the region’s countries, said Al-Delaimy.

UC San Diego professor Wael Al-Delaimy, MD, PhD, will serve as principal investigator of the Global Center on Climate Change, Water, Energy, Food, and Health Systems.

“The Middle East is the front post or early warning of what a climate change crisis will look like. We need to act now through prevention and preparation to support the region to adapt to and for us to learn from it to prepare the most vulnerable communities locally and globally,” Al-Delaimy said.

UCSF’s participation is led by Margaret Handley, PhD, MPH, who will lead the implementation science component of the research strategy to implement pilot projects.

“This new center is exciting for its potential to improve translation of water-conserving and water safety technology into practical approaches for settings where health risks are very high due to lack of clean water. We will work hard to ensure that that tools for improving clean water access and other interventions will be implemented so they reach the people who need them across the region,” Handley said.

Funded by a $3.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, the program will target rural and refugee communities in the most water-deprived areas of Jordan. Launched in mid-September with 30 scientists from UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, Texas A&M, University of Jordan, Hashemite University, The Royal Science Society in Jordan and six Jordanian community organizations, the program will address the four core elements of the NIH’s investment in climate health research: health effects research, health equity, intervention research, and training and capacity building.

Al-Delaimy, who also directs the GeoHealth Hub, will represent UC San Diego at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties, more commonly referred to as COP28. The conference has, for the first time, dedicated a day to address the health impacts of climate change. 

Jordan, one of the few politically stable countries in the region, is aggressively looking for solutions to the water crises. It has created a high-profile governmental committee to develop policies that can address this crisis in the short and long term.