Pressure is mounting on the Egyptian authorities to do more to protect the Nile Delta, which provides up to a third of the country’s agricultural produce, from rising sea levels.
“This is really serious,” Mohamed Eissa, a leading Egyptian environmentalist, told IRIN. “The government must do something to save the Delta from totally sinking.”
Eissa and other environmentalists say it will take Egypt 15-25 years to feel the full impact of climate change.
A report released in March by the Arab League said a half-to-one-metre sea level rise over the coming 100 years could cause much of the Delta to be submerged. It also said soil erosion on the banks of the Delta could lead to a decline in agricultural yields.
In response, Egyptian Environment Minister Maged George said the government was studying “the adverse effects of climate change in coordination with the specialized authorities” and working “to raise society’s environmental behaviours through raising environmental awareness among individuals and institutions”.
He said the government was offering financial incentives to support environmentally friendly facilities or initiatives and would “toughen penalties against violations and risky environmental practices”.
Some parts of the Delta nearest to the Mediterranean Sea have already been inundated, including parts of the ancient city of Rosetta.
The Mediterranean has risen 20cm in the past century and saltwater intrusion is now a major problem, experts say. They expect the sea level to keep rising and flood large swathes of land in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city.
Photo: Otto Simonett/UNEP-GRID
|The impact of a sea level rise on the Nile Delta according to UNEP/GRID estimations. See larger version|
In response, the government has had huge concrete blocks and thousands of tons of sand placed along the shore.
Alexandria governor Adel Labib said the government gave his office 150 million Egyptian pounds (US$27.5 million) to take the necessary measures to protect the coast.
Irrigation Minister Mohamed Nasr Allam said his ministry had drawn up plans to protect Egypt’s shores, but this does not seem to have allayed fears of a sinking Delta.
The NGO Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights recently called on the authorities to provide evacuation tips to Delta residents in case of a major flood. It also said the government should to start making plans to compensate residents if they lost their homes and farms.
A sea level rise of half a metre would force around 1.5 million people from their homes in Alexandria alone, according to local environmentalists.
If the sea level were to rise by another one metre, around 10.5 percent of the population of the Delta would be at risk and 12.5 percent of its agricultural land inundated, according to a 2007 World Bank research paper.
Scientists generally predict that the Mediterranean, and the world’s other seas, will rise 30-100cm by the end of the century, flooding coastal areas along the Delta.
“There must be proper political dialogue on means of evading the crisis,” said Mustafa Kamal Tolba, another leading Egyptian environmentalist, adding that Egypt could evade the effects of climate change on the Delta if it earmarked 5 percent of its budget for finding measures to protect its coasts. “If we don’t act now, we can only blame ourselves.”