Sea Level Rise in Egypt

A NextGen blog post by Gabrielle Wilson, Ryerson University.
All Photos © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted.

This is the latest post to our NWNL NEXTGEN BLOG series. Since 2007, NWNL has supported watershed education with college internships and blogging opportunities. This NWNL NEXTGEN BLOG series posts student essays; sponsors a forum for our student contributors; and invites upper-level students to propose work focused on watershed values, threats and solutions.

Gabrielle Wilson is a recent Environment & Urban Sustainability graduate from Toronto’s Ryerson University. This blog post examines the issue of rising sea levels in Egypt and the ways in which its government is attempting to resolve this crisis which is worsening with climate change.

Egypt is currently facing a catastrophic foe with treacherous implications for its coastal cities: rising sea levels (RSL). Exacerbated by climate change, RSL has the power to alter landscapes, threaten habitats and displace communities. With sea levels rising at a rate of one-eighth of an inch per year, numerous regions are experiencing consequences.[mfn]NOAA[/mfn] Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, has been subjected to numerous RSL challenges that can compromise the health and wellbeing of communities that reside on its coast. The city is surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea – making it uniquely susceptible to devastation caused by RSL.[mfn]Magdy, Samy[/mfn] This region is no stranger to tidal flooding; but in recent years its population has paid witness to more devastating events. In 2015, a flash flood consumed large parts of the city resulting in 7 deaths and the collapse of over a dozen homes.[mfn]Magdy, Samy[/mfn] These events reveal the weakness and shortcomings of local infrastructure and the dangerous future around the corner. Since the city sits on low-lying grounds, events like these will likely occur more frequently and the community will be subject to further danger from coastal flooding if efficient mitigation methods are not employed.

Seen from 15th c. Citadel of Qaitbay, cranes add rip-rap to an Alexandria breakwater to fight sea level rise

Examining the Issue

According to NASA, “SLR is caused primarily by two factors related to climate change: 1) the added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and 2) the expansion of seawater as it warms.”[mfn]Climate Nasa[/mfn] Despite international efforts, the global effects of climate change are currently being felt on a level never experienced before – a change that only exacerbates already existing environmental events.[mfn]El Raey, M.[/mfn] Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation reported that until 1993 the sea level rose by an average of 1.8 millimeters annually. Over the following two decades, the sea rose by 2.1 millimeters per year. Since 2012 it has reached as high as 3.2 millimeters per year, enough to threaten building foundations. As Alexandria slowly sinks, experts also note that approximately 280 square miles of the Nile Delta will be completely submerged by 2050; and approximately 1,000 square miles  will be submerged by the end of the century – affecting over 5 million people.[mfn]Magdy, Samy[/mfn] Projections indicate that agriculture could decrease by almost 50% by 2060. Additionally, the city will suffer a loss of coastal resources and tourism, which will in turn deplete a large chunk of Egypt’s GDP in the coming years. Egypt’s rapidly-growing population compiled with disappearing resources equates to a regional crisis that must be met with urgency.[mfn]Khafagy, Amir[/mfn]

View from Stanley’s Bridge of wave action that causes erosion and need for rip-rap protection against sea level rise

Looking Forward

One of the main issues preventing resolution of RSL, is the fact that many Egyptian officials do not believe that climate change presents an immediate or dire threat to current population.[mfn]Mulhern, Owen[/mfn] Despite the need for urgent mitigation measures, Egypt’s government has presented a very lackadaisical attitude in regard to RSL and notes that it is doing everything that they can with available resources. Recently, Egypt’s Government has allocated approximately $120 million to build concrete sea barriers along the coastline.[mfn]Magdy, Samy[/mfn] Piles of concrete rip-rap extend from Alexandria eastward to Damietta and Rosetta (aka Rashid), the Nile Delta’s two main distributaries flowing into the Mediterranean. However, environmental officials believe that their preventative actions thus far will not be enough to combat the catastrophic future on the horizon. After the severe flooding event in 2015, the Housing Ministry built nine apartment blocks to house persons who lived near the unsafe coast of Alexandria.[mfn]Magdy, Samy[/mfn] Unfortunately, resettlement is not a long-term solution and only disrupts the livelihood of large communities. Moving forward, government acknowledgment and sustainable solutions will be required to preserve this historic city – as well as Rosetta and Damietta.

Concrete barrier against sea level rise at Rashid Branch of Nile River as it enters the Mediterranean Sea

Climate Nasa. “Sea Level.” Nasa, n.d. Accessed July 2nd, 2021 by GW.

El Raey, M. “Adaptation to the impacts of sea level rise in Egypt.” University of Alexandria, n.d. Accessed July 8th, 2021 by GW.

Khafagy, Amir. “Will Sea-Level Rise Claim Egypt’s Second-Largest City?” Bloomberg, 2019. Accessed July 10th, 2021 by GW.

Magdy, Samy. “Rising seas threaten Egypt’s fabled port city of Alexandria.” Ap News, 2019. Accessed July 2nd, 2021 by GW.

Mulhern, Owen. “Sea Level Rise Projection Map- Alexandria.” Earth, 2020. Accessed July 8th, 2021 by GW.

National Ocean Services. “Is Sea Level Rising?” NOAA, n.d. Accessed July 2nd, 2021 by GW.

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