New study reveals climate change threats to Egypt

Assiut University has issued an atlas on the risks posed by climate change to Egypt’s coasts, and the policies that need to be enacted to circumvent such risks.

During the past twenty years the international scientific society has come to the conclusion that humans have negatively affected the climate. The degree of certainty surrounding this conclusion was clearly reflected in the latest report by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), which stated that greenhouse gas concentration in the air is increasing and, in turn, high temperatures will generate negative radiation on earth. The report also stated that our climate has changed during the twentieth century, while predicting further changes in the future as poor nations specifically are exposed to risks leading to major environmental, social, economic and political developments.

Studies conducted between the time of issuing the third and fourth report of the IPCC (2001-2007) argued eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) have seen the highest temperatures in more than 150 years. The global temperature average during the twentieth century (1906-2005) recorded an increase of 0.74C.

According to studies and information included in the 2007 IPCC report, temperatures will rise during the last ten years of the 21st century (2090-2099) ranging between a minimum 1.8C and a maximum 4C. High temperatures will lead to the extinction of species and coral reefs (between 40 percent to 70 percent of species around the world are expected to disappear) and the sea level is expected to rise by an average of 18-38cm at minimum, and 26-58 at maximum, in comparison with levels existing between 1980-1999.

In the same context, a German study published in Nature Journal in December 2007 said the maximum surge in sea levels might exceed 1.6 meters, which is double the rate anticipated by the recent IPCC report. This study relies on a scientifically indisputable fact: Sea levels, by the end of this century, are going to increase above one meter, posing a real challenge to all countries whose territory lies below sea level–including Egypt–according to reports by the World Bank and other international bodies.

A World Bank study published in February 2007, conducted by a team of scientists and experts and covering 84 developing countries to determine the degree to which they will be affected by rising sea levels, found that the most severe impact will be on the population, land, agriculture, and economy of the Middle East and North African region. The study predicted that Egypt will be the most affected should sea levels rise by one meter only; in such a case, according to the report, Egypt's citizens will lose ten percent of their land and cities.

The World Bank study also warned that Egypt may lose 12.5 percent of its cultivated areas, with ten percent of the population forced to give up their land, hence becoming the most affected nation in terms of agricultural activity.       

The areas in Egypt threatened with submersion are all located along the Nile Delta. The total surface area of the Delta is 24450 square kilometers or 2.5 percent of the total surface area of Egypt. The northern part of the Delta is experiencing continuously dropping levels. In fact, most of its northern parts are zero centimeters above sea level, with land extending between 7.7 kilometers to 58.5 kilometers into the water. Therefore, the Delta may be affected by any rise in sea level.   

The low Delta lands are separated from the sea by discontinuous belts of sand dunes that represent natural barriers, the heights of which range between 1.5 and 14 meters above sea level. Their width ranges between 1-10km along the northern arch of the Delta, stretching from Port Said to Abu Qeer. These belts were formed from the Nile water sediments deposited in Damietta and Rashid. The water and air currents would then redistribute the deposits along the coasts.

The problem is that these belts are eroding and becoming more widely spaced as a result of the fewer sediments deposited. The sediments have decreased, due to the establishment of the high Dam and the blowing of the sand to the south east. The sediments– which increased the fertility of the Delta, compensated the drop in the level of land and protected the Delta from the advancing waters– are now almost nonexistent.

The Assiut atlas contains the first extensive and scientific study of the topography of Egypt's coasts, the total length of which is around 3500km, according to NASA. It aims to locate weaknesses in these coasts, especially the Delta, processes of natural and human-induced erosion of the Delta, and the recession and drying-out of the Northern Lakes.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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