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Middle East and North Africa

Since the uprisings of 2011, the region has witnessed unprecedented change. This has resulted in uneven growth, economic vulnerability, a fragile democracy, and high unemployment — especially among women and young people.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, local economies are under strain, often relying too heavily on the oil industry. Many countries deplete their natural resources at rates well above sustainable levels. Increased desert areas and food security are major concerns while serious water problems remain unresolved.

Research focus

Like the rest of the developing world, the area is in search of answers — and we’re making advances. For more than 40 years, IDRC has helped researchers and innovators find ways to improve health, reduce poverty, and promote democracy in the area.

Our programming is designed to bring together the right partners for the most impact, in areas such as social and economic policy, the environment, politics and governance, information and communication technologies, and knowledge creation. We are empowering the region to build strong local leadership — both for today and tomorrow.











Saudi Arabia






United Arab Emirates

West Bank and Gaza


Country Profile

Our efforts in Algeria between 1974 and the early 1990s focused on improving agriculture and education, and building up information technology. After a decade-long absence from the country because of civil unrest, in 2002 we set out to re-establish relations with Algerian researchers. An important first step was to restore support for increased research capacity. 

Several workshops introduced key skills to Algerian specialists in economics, agriculture, forestry, and water management. Workshops focused on incorporating communities’ research needs, and addressing the differing requirements of men and women.    

Health services in the desert  

In 2005, we resumed our research support in Algeria through grants to improve health care in remote areas. Our support helped develop software and a computer-based

platform to connect two hospitals in the capital of Algiers with two remote hospitals in southern Algeria. 

The experiment helped rural doctors upgrade their skills in pediatric care. The trial’s positive results prompted Algeria’s Ministry of Health and Population to develop a strategy and plan of action for e-health services in the country. 

Quality science journalism 

Since 2006, we’ve supported science journalists in Algeria and other African countries. Our focus on quality science journalism aims to encourage informed debate and evidence-based policy-making on key development challenges.

With IDRC support, the World Federation of Science Journalists is honing journalists’ ability to report on health, environment, and agriculture. Algerian graduates of an extensive training and peer-mentoring program have created new television and radio programs, and are contributing articles to international science and development media. 

Their investigative reporting has already influenced policymakers. For example, a story documenting the disuse of a traditional water management system led the Algerian government to promote the revival of this technology. 

Total IDRC Support

37 activities worth CAD4.9 million since 1974

Algerian man sitting in the desert.
UN / E.Schneider

Our support is helping

  • bring telemedicine to remote regions of Algeria
  • build local ecohealth research capacity
  • cope with climate change impacts on the health and livelihoods of the poor
  • develop an ecohealth methodology to control diseases stimulated by climate change
  • develop better governance of the Algerian steppe to improve inhabitants’ socioeconomic conditions
  • promote policies to protect minorities like the Kurdish and Amazigh communities, who represent 50 million people in the region

Country Profile

Our research support in Egypt has shifted focus with the country’s changing needs. Early research investments in the 1970s led to improvements in such areas as irrigation, pest control, food processing, water conservation and treatment, and health-care services. 

Following uprisings that swept many Arab countries, we targeted interventions to support transitions to democracy in the region. One example is the work of the Arab Reform Initiative, a network of research centres that develops and tests reforms. From its newly opened office in Egypt, the network helps citizens’ groups and political parties participate in policy dialogues. Several grants also build on women’s rights and political empowerment in the region’s transitions.

Cutting red tape for business

From 2000 to 2009, our research support informed Egyptian policymakers about international trade negotiations and reforms to encourage the growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. 

For eight years, IDRC and the Canadian International Development Agency supported training for public servants and government efforts to increase competitiveness. The reforms cut red tape in areas such as customs and income tax. About 3,000 small business owners also learned how to use information and communication technologies more effectively. 

Nile Delta at risk

Rising sea levels along the Nile Delta are at risk of flooding and salt water intrusion due to climate change. This affects the inhabitants, as well as economic activity in the area. 

In 2008, our funding enabled the University of Alexandria to assess the vulnerability of different economic sectors and advise on adaptation options, such as building sea walls and retreating from low-lying areas. With support from IDRC and other partners, the university established the Alexandria Research Centre for Adaptation to Climate Change. This centre of excellence will help to guide the country’s investment in climate adaptation.

Total IDRC Support

241 activities worth CAD41.7 million since 1971

Algeria women sewing.

Our support is helping

  • stimulate technology start ups
  • prepare youth for in high-demand jobs in retail, hospitality, information technology, and business outsourcing 
  • detect migration patterns due to climate change along the deltas
  • improve small farmers’ livelihoods with technologies that open supply chains
  • reform civil-military relations to reinforce democracy
  • promote policies to protect minorities like the Kurdish and Amazigh communities, who represent 50 million people in the region

Country Profile

Our first grant for research in Jordan improved reforestation methods on severely eroded and degraded land. Subsequent funding focused research on areas key to the country’s development, such as farming technology, health care, information systems, and entrepreneurship. 

Results included improved farming practices for chickpeas and lentils, and better greenhouse technology. Jordan’s poorest citizens have benefitted from research on plant-breeding techniques and new water conservation technology. 

Improving crop varieties with farmers

Jordan has a wealth of useful plants, including barley, wheat, lentils, chickpeas, figs, olives, and capers. Preserving their genetics can help future generations breed crop varieties and address new challenges. 

We facilitated national agricultural agencies in Jordan to formally involve smallholder farmers in plant breeding, to preserve and improve genetic resources. Jordanian researchers worked with an international team from China, Nepal, and Peru to develop a legal framework for genetic resources. The framework includes a benefit-sharing regime with farmers whose participation in plant breeding leads to better locally adapted crops. 

Saving water, saving money

According to the World Health Organization, people need at least 1,000 cubic metres of water each year to maintain their health. In Jordan, however, people can access only about one-fifth of this amount. 

With our support, the Inter-Islamic Network on Water Resources Development and Management built affordable household systems to treat greywater — wastewater collected from laundry tubs, sinks, and showers. By irrigating their gardens with greywater, families on the outskirts of Tafila who tested the system were able to conserve water, produce more food, and save money. The Government of Jordan has since encouraged more pilot tests and revised national building codes to ensure greywater is separated from toilet water.  

Total IDRC Support

88 activities worth CAD16.5 million since 1976

A mother holders her child in Jordan.
DFID / A.Trayler-Smith

Our support is helping

  • assist policymakers in developing critical, modern services for the region 
  • understand and integrate tribalism into Jordan’s political system
  • develop policies that strengthen moderate Islamist elements and advance political reform, respect for human rights, and regional peace and security
  • improve greywater treatment and use, and create wastewater management systems in rural areas 
  • ensure fair access and benefits for genetic resources developed through participatory plant breeding

Country Profile

Our research support in Lebanon focuses on laying the groundwork for future prosperity in the region. Our funded research promotes stability — as Lebanon addresses humanitarian challenges posed by Iraqi, Palestinian, and Syrian refugees within its borders.

When the country’s 15-year civil war ended in 1991, we first concentrated on informing the peace process and the transition to democracy. Research then expanded to include dryland agriculture, watershed management, and sanitation. 

For example, in the early 2000s research enabled the village of Arsal to deal with conflicts over land use for herding, fruit production, and quarrying. Arsal farmers also adopted new techniques, such as sowing fodder under orchard trees to enhance soil fertility.

Waterpipe smoking

Our support also addressed tobacco control to reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and stroke. A study of waterpipe smoking, common in the Middle East, led to groundbreaking results. 

Researchers at the American University of Beirut discovered that waterpipe users inhaled more smoke and dangerous gases than cigarette smokers. The results contradicted widely-held beliefs, and led the World Health Organization to issue a health advisory on the use of waterpipes.  In 2011, thanks to the researchers’ advocacy, the Lebanese Parliament passed a much stronger tobacco control bill than originally proposed. The team has taken its outreach activities beyond government, organizing educational contests in schools and helping restaurants and cafés comply with the smoking ban.

Scholarships for refugee women 

At the request of the Government of Canada, IDRC and international donors supported a scholarship fund that enabled women from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon to pursue undergraduate university careers. Established in 2000, the fund provided grants to more than 200 impoverished young women with good grades, helping them earn degrees in fields such as biology, engineering, and graphic design. 

Total IDRC Support

103 activities worth CAD25 million since 1975

Primary school kids in Lebanon sit in a classroom.
DFID / R.Watkins

Our support is helping

  • reduce the effects of saltwater intrusion along the Eastern Mediterranean
  • upgrade local researchers’ economic analytical capacities
  • reform policies that govern the gas sector in light of Lebanon’s newly-found gas resources
  • develop a policy approach to reduce alcohol consumption among youth
  • strengthen health systems across the region, particularly rapid response services
  • promote the health dangers of waterpipe smoking, to turn research results into policy

Country Profile

Water conservation, agriculture, small-business development, and government service delivery figure prominently in our research support in Morocco. 

For example, research on rising sea levels and more severe, frequent storms supported government plans to help the farming and tourism industries adapt to climate change. In addition, early research to develop new barley varieties led the country to involve farmers in its plant-breeding program. Together, they identified high-yielding new cultivars, adapted to farmers’ fields.

E-governance improves service

Thanks to our support, government efficiency is also improving. Researchers at Al-Akhawayn University worked with local and national authorities to set up the first wireless telecommunications network for the city of Fez. In the past, citizens endured lengthy waits for birth certificates needed for job applications or school registration. Now they can obtain such records quickly at electronic kiosks. 

By mid-2010, the city’s Agdal district was issuing 37% more birth certificates than the previous year. The team’s success has garnered it many contracts and grants to improve local government services throughout Morocco.

Argan oil creates bounty for women

In the late 1990s, researchers in the Faculty of Science at the Mohammed V University of Rabat worked with Berber women to improve methods of extracting oil from the fruit of the argan tree, a species native to Morocco. Faster production methods led the women to form cooperatives to produce and market the rare oil. They became economically empowered. They learned how to read and write, and invest in their children’s future.

This IDRC-supported initiative also provided incentives to protect the argan tree and thus combat desertification. Now a popular cosmetics ingredient, argan oil received a protected geographical indication from the European Union in 2011, in recognition of its unique qualities. In 2010, lead researcher Zoubida Charrouf received Morocco’s Grand Prize for Invention and Research in Science and Technology for her groundbreaking work. 

Total IDRC Support

110 activities worth CAD20.1 million since 1982

Morocco street view.
World Bank / A.Hoel

Our support is helping

  • adapt to climate change in Morocco’s Tensift and Saiss Basins 
  • strengthen the knowledge base for intellectual property policy, and make needed reforms
  • provide insights into protests demanding greater government accountability and legitimacy
  • improve rangeland management in the province of Rhamna
  • promote policies to protect minorities like the Kurdish and Amazigh communities, who represent 50 million people in the region

Country Profile

We have supported research in Sudan since 1974, two years after the country’s first civil war ended. Food production was an initial focus of research. This resulted in more nutritious varieties of sorghum and higher resistance to a parasitic weed. 

Renewed internal conflict hindered research from 1983 until the 2005 peace agreement. Research now focuses primarily on peacebuilding and meeting the needs of displaced populations. It also aims to resolve conflict in the western region of Darfur, where fighting has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions since 2003.

Research for peace and security 

Our research support has informed the peace and security work of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, a trade bloc in the Horn of Africa. Through its roundtables, researchers with other organizations identified factors that destabilized the region — including pervasive poverty, the absence of a threat common to all bloc member states, and few shared political goals. 

Such insights have fostered debate and raised the profile of civil society groups as important actors in the search for peace and security.

Forging a future 

Researchers at Ahfad University for Women in Sudan collaborated with Canada’s York University to show how entrepreneurship can thrive, even in a conflict zone. A forum bringing together experts and internally displaced Sudanese helped researchers identify vast potential to kick-start private-sector activity in both southern Sudan and Darfur. 

Blacksmiths who showcased their work at the forum won two major contracts to supply tools to communities in western and northern Sudan. In another positive spin-off, an internship program was developed that includes business, law, and engineering students from four universities in Sudan. 

Total IDRC Support

71 activities worth CAD11.1 million since 1974

Our support is helping

  • promote the transition to peace
  • create more inclusive political settlements to avoid the relapse of conflicts
  • increase the participation of Sudanese women in politics and public life, given the 2010 election’s quota system

Country Profile

More than three decades of our support has helped Tunisian researchers and policymakers increase their knowledge in fields such as agriculture, water management, and economic policy. 

Following difficulties in the region, our support shifted. Researchers now probe topics such as democratic reform, creating jobs for youth, and using social media to encourage government accountability and political participation.  

Stabilizing democracy and supporting new business

Within this climate, several IDRC-supported efforts are generating policy-relevant knowledge to help create stable democracy and equitable economic growth in Tunisia and across the region. 

Our support enabled researchers to examine crucial questions related to the wave of political and social change, known as the Arab Spring. Tunisian protests led to fair and democratic elections in September 2011, and inspired demands for reform across the Middle East and North Africa. 

The Tunisian government’s job creation efforts benefit from economic research supported by IDRC from 2006 to 2009. A regional study found that new manufacturing firms were more productive than older ones, leading researchers to conclude that policies to encourage start-ups could lower unemployment.

Agriculture in a semi-arid land

Our early focus on agriculture brought tangible benefits to citizens, including a group of herders in the country’s Neffatia region. Since sand dunes were encroaching on their lands, in 1988, we supported researchers’ work with residents to improve farming and herding conditions. 

They identified the best soils for olive production and discovered a shrub that protects rangelands from desertification. The solutions had an impact. When the research ended in 1993, participating herders had increased sheep and goat production by 16%.

In the 1990s, IDRC-supported research produced four improved varieties of barley. It also led to the adoption of remote sensing tools to manage and preserve water and soil and protect vegetation. 

Total IDRC Support

87 activities worth CAD20.2 million since 1975

Tunisian woman handcrafting textiles.
World Bank / A.Hoel

Our support is helping

  • advance multi-party democratic systems in the region
  • analyze three state institutions to find ways to enhance legitimacy and accountability 
  • understand critical factors related to youth participation in politics
  • measure public perception of security sector reforms in Tunisia and other countries
  • encourage women’s participation in political decision-making, the judiciary, and the public sector 
  • promote policies to protect minorities like the Kurdish and Amazigh communities, who represent 50 million people in the region

Country Profile

We have supported research in the West Bank and Gaza since 1984. Early research focused on agriculture, then expanded to include the effects of conflict, legal reform, environmental health hazards, water conservation, and economic policy. Much of this research contributes knowledge for local and international players working toward a durable peace. 

For example, researchers at Birzeit University in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, recommended legal reforms to improve the justice system. Their reforms proposed to integrate informal conflict resolution practices into the formal justice system, and encouraged greater respect for the rule of law. 

Teenage stress and prolonged conflict 

In the West Bank, adolescents make up nearly half the population. Prolonged conflict and political violence have exacerbated normal teenage stress. Research collaboration between Birzeit University and Canada’s Queen’s University reviewed the problem.

Researchers studied more than 3,000 15- to 17-year olds in Ramallah to understand how they dealt with stress and trauma. The team mentored Community Based Rehabilitation, a non-governmental organization, as it developed a community intervention approach. 

This intervention is now used in 34 locales across the West Bank and Gaza. It has produced significant benefits for youth and communities, and offers an alternative to the biomedical treatment of psychological trauma resulting from violent conflict.

The public view on security 

In August 2009, the Palestinian authority committed to modernizing public security services in the West Bank and Gaza. In the months following that commitment, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research identified a lack of consultation with the public as a major flaw in security reform. 

With IDRC funding, researchers surveyed people in the Ministry of Interior, security services, the judiciary, parliament, and human rights organizations. Most importantly, they asked the general population whether the security sector met the public’s needs and priorities.  Such research gives policymakers a model for monitoring the evolving security sector and its performance. It provides a glimpse of how this sector helps, or hinders, Palestinians in their everyday lives.

Total IDRC Support

114 activities worth CAD22 million since 1984

Students in computer programming class in the West Bank.
World Bank / A.Hoel

Our support helps 

  • women and youth find jobs in small business
  • farmers make the most of scarce resources
  • food producers access the best knowledge on agriculture
  • policymakers understand refugee issues
  • Arab citizens increase their presence on the Web

Regional office

Amman, Jordan

Zahran Gate Complex Suite 302,
25 Ismael Haqqi Abdo Street,
Amman, Jordan
Phone: 00962 (0)6 582 8303

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