Thursday, March 13, 2008

Contingency planning in Egypt for rising sea levels

IRIN: The rise in sea levels due to global warming threatens Egypt’s densely populated coastal strip and could have grave consequences for the country’s economy, agriculture and industry. Combined with growing demographic pressures, a rise in sea levels could turn millions of Egyptians into environmental refugees by the end of the century, according to climate experts. Despite the possibility of such a scenario, scientists and government officials disagree on what contingency plans, if any, to make.

The Nile delta, one of the most heavily populated and intensely cultivated areas on earth, is considered in the 2007 fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be a key societal hotspot of coastal vulnerability. According to Mohamed Al-Raey, professor of environmental physics at the University of Alexandria, a rise in sea levels of 9-59cm could lead to the inundation of many low-lying coastal zones in Egypt.…According to Ibrahim Al-Shenawy, director of the institute, “current measurements indicate a sea level rise of 1.6mm per year for Alexandria, 2.3mm for Burg Al-Burullus and 5.3mm for Port Said. …”

....The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) said that several measures could be put in place to deal with the impact on the coastal zone corridor, including beach nourishment (deposition of sand onto the beach), construction of breakwaters, tightening of legal regulations to restrict development in vulnerable areas, changes in land use and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

….Mohamed Bayoumi, a UNDP environment specialist, said the Egyptian government had been working for the past 30 years on sea erosion reduction and shore protection measures, particularly by constructing dams in the Nile Delta. He said: “These hard structures to protect shores against sea erosion can now be used for adaptation to climate change and rising sea levels.”

But according to Al-Shenawy, “there is no urgent need at the moment to take measures against sea level rise, the situation is not alarming. The process is very slow, it’s only about a couple of millimetres per year. Only certain areas will suffer from sea level rises, not all. But we will continue our research and collect our data, otherwise we invest for nothing and too much money would be wasted.”

While a cost assessment for contingency measures has not yet been conducted in Egypt, the 2007 IPCC report suggests that adaptation costs for climate change would be much lower than post-event costs.

In contrast to Al-Shenawy, other environmental specialists say a shift in public policies, and the implementation of national adaptation strategies to protect vulnerable areas, need to be put in place urgently.

For Al-Raey, the contingency plans suggested by the government aim to protect the tourism industry in the first place but are not directly related to the impact of climate change and global warming. “Additional adaptation measures are needed to target climate change. This will be less expensive for the tourism industry than losing the beach completely. We are now working with different cultural organisations to raise awareness and get better answers from decision-makers,” he said.

NASA photo of Alexandria, Egypt, from Wikimedia Commons

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