Flash Flooding: Is Egypt Really Prepared?

Shahd Hisham, Saturday 15 Sep 2018

Questions arise regarding Egypt's preparedness for flash flooding in the wake of news that autumn 2018 could bring the heaviest rains yet

File photo: Heavy rain in Alexandria earlier in November (AO)

In 2015, seven lives were lost in Alexadria to flash flooding. However, official reports covering that period had expected little to no rain. In the following years various promises were made to prevent an incident of this sort from occurring again.

Yet, in the wake of global increases in the effects of climate change, Mahmoud Shahin – the Head of Meteorological Authority's Analysis Center – two weeks ago warned that Egypt ought to expect a flood season around the 22 September.

Meanwhile, the question of our preparedness for dealing with the consequences of climate shifts remains unanswered. Whilst previous floods have resulted in lost lives, damage to private and public property, power cuts, closing of roads, road accidents and public outrage, Shahin cautions that the highest amount of rainfall of 2018 could be this autumn.

While official reports failed to predict the 2015 Alexandria flash flood, according to a statement on the official website of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, they assert their reliance on a precise warning system through the monitoring of weather patterns all in an effort to ensure preparedness for heavy rainfall and flash floods.

In response to the loss of twenty-six lives across three governorates in 2016, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi promised to improve drainage networks within the span of one year. By December 2017, he issued a statement assuring that these improvements have taken place. In contrast, in another call for improvements, necessary after the flash flooding earlier in 2018 that affected many cities including Cairo, former Prime Minister Sherif Ismail called for precautions to be taken in all governorates to ensure the prevention of flash floods.

In a statement to Masrawy last week engineer Abd El-Latif Khaled, head of the irrigation department, said that for the past two months a systematic maintenance and clearance of waterways had taken place, including 117 artificial water passages. He added that the ministry ensures its preparedness for this flash flood season through dams and man-made lakes, robust equipment and established outlines for the direct coordination between governorates.

Mohamed Faheem, the Executive Manager of the Information Center of Climate Change, said to Al-Ahram Online that the effects of global warming are not merely confined to rainfall. The summer is expected to get longer and hotter, in which it is predicted to exceed 50% of the year. Meanwhile the winter is expected to get shorter and colder. He elaborated that the changes are obvious and accumulative, and that they are expected to have exponential impact on agricultural production.

Faheem, who anticipates rainfall throughout the southeast of Egypt to start around 7 September, states that preparedness for flash floods also varies by terrain: the desert has the largest capacity for storing excess rain but the facilities are lacking, agricultural land should be using the water for rationed irrigation, and urban areas are in desperate need for drainage channels as well as possibly filtering and draining water into canals and rivers.

"2-3 billion meter cubed of rainfall is expected to fall this winter throughout Egypt. If we had the facilities to store this water, which we don't, we could plant a million acres in the desert", Faheem says.

He asserts water levels of rivers and canals should be reduced to allow for expected increases in water levels. He added that sewers are currently too overloaded to drain rain water.

On September 1, Saint Catherine in South Sinai had unanticipated rain which surprisingly caused no damage. The rain provided water for irrigation and formed ponds and lakes between valleys, aiding wildlife. The lack of damage was attributed by many to be due to the precautions taken by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. On the other hand, Faheem stated that it was not a flash flood, as due to the nature of the terrain, the rain was successfully stored. He attributed the lack of damages to the nature of the terrain and lack of built infrastructure. 

Faheem sums up, "We are not ready for the next rain season and cities are expected to suffer severe damages due to the lack of separate drainage channels, thus the rain is expected to overload sewer channels."

Globally, there is growing significant alarm over these changing conditions caused by climate change. Most recently, typhoon Jebi caused severe damage in Japan forcing the closure of Kansai Airport, near Osaka.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech at the UN Headquarters that "runaway climate change" is an imminent probability if the current attitude to climate change remains till 2020. Runaway climate change is a theoretically anticipated point in which the accumulative effects of climate change would create an irreversible loop of extreme heat, wildfires, storms and floods. This point is suggested by some scientists to be the cause of the inhabitability of Venus.

In the midst of different definitions of what constitutes preparedness for adverse weather, and conflicting views on climate change and ways in which to potentially deal with it, the only certainty is that increasing rainfall and colder winter ought to be expected.

Short link: