Saving Alexandria

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 6 Jan 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly reports on the threats posed by climate change to the Meditteranean city

Saving Alexandria
Saving Alexandria

The Senate — Egypt’s consultative upper house — held a preliminary discussion on 20 December on the impact of climate change on Alexandria. According to Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek, a comprehensive report on the issue will be completed ahead of the COP27 summit due to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh at the end of this year.

Senator Walid Al-Tamimi, who submitted a discussion request, said the COP26 Climate Summit, held in Glasgow, Scotland between 31 October and 12 November and attended by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, rang alarm bells about climate change and its negative impacts.

“A statement by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson caused anxiety among Egyptians, particularly residents of Alexandria and other Mediterranean cities like Marsa Matrouh, Damietta, Rosetta, Port Said, and Al-Arish,” said Al-Tamami.

In a speech before the COP26, Johnson said “when the temperature rises only 4 degrees, we will say goodbye to entire cities, which are Miami, Alexandria, and Shanghai, they will all sink underwater”.

Al-Tamami asked that the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli explain the measures it intends to take to deal with the impact of climate change and protect Egypt’s Mediterranean cities, particularly Alexandria. He argued that the selection of Egypt, as representative of the continent of Africa, to host the 27th round of the climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2022, should prompt the government to take early measures to face the challenges of climate change and their expected impact on Mediterranean cities, water resources and agricultural production in Egypt.

“International studies warned years ago of the danger facing Alexandria as a result of rising sea levels due to increased temperatures caused by climate change,” said Hossam Al-Khouli, the representative of the majority party Mostaqbal Watan. “There have to be measures on the ground to protect the historic city.”

Alexandria Governor Mohamed Al-Sherif said in a televised interview a few weeks ago that since 2015 the city has been exposed to torrential rains and floods and they are growing more severe each year “lending some credence to what Boris Johnson said about Alexandria.

“In the past, the height of the waves battering Alexandria did not exceed eight metres even during the worst winter storms. In the last three years, however, waves of up to and 15 metres have hit popular beaches like Sidi Bishr.”

“Human Development in Egypt in 2021”, a report released this week by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, warned that Egypt was one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the negative effects of climate change. “Egypt’s seven Mediterranean coast governorates are home to 15 per cent of the total population. Sea levels have significantly risen in recent years due increased temperatures. Unless we prepare very early for this challenge, we could see large parts of not only Alexandria but of the Nile delta disappear under water,” said the report.

If, by 2050, sea levels rise by half a metre, continued the report, 30 per cent of Alexandria will be threatened and the Mediterranean coastal cities of Damietta, Rosetta, and Port Said will disappear.

Government officials, however, caution that reports on the impact of rising sea levels on Egypt’s urban centres are often exaggerated. Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad told the Senate on 20 December that “not all public speeches and reports on climate change are correct, and many just aim to ring alarm bells”.

According to Fouad, Alexandria faces two possible scenarios.

“The first is that some parts of the city will be submerged, the second that the city will not suffer at all.”

“The government has a clear-cut plan for addressing climate change and protecting Alexandria,” said Fouad, and more than LE 7 billion ($445 million) has been allocated over the last six years to implement protection measures along Egypt’s northern coastline.

“We are implementing an early warning system and drafting plans to address any potential negative impact of climate change on the Mediterranean and Nile Delta cities.”

Fouad underlined that climate change has already begun to affect Egypt.

“We have begun to see huge quantities of rainfall, to the extent that what was once a whole winter’s worth of rain can fall within a few hours, not to mention the change in temperatures and the timing of floods, and shortages in crop production.”

Following Johnson’s statement at the COP26 conference Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Ati said the scenario the UK prime minister posited was not surprising, and the government began for it two decades ago. “We have been taking actions that have rendered the submerging of Alexandria an impossibility,” he said.

The government, says Al-Sherif, has adopted a three-pronged strategy to protect Alexandria.

“The first line of defence involves filling large areas of the city’s beaches with sand, something we have been working on for years now. The second line of defence includes constructing concrete barriers and blocks to protect the city’s shoreline from erosion, and the third involves setting up green projects to preserve the environment and confront climate change.”

While geologist and Helwan University professor Hatem Sadek says that Alexandria’s lowest lying beaches “to the west and east of the city, including Montazah, Al-Mandara, Sidi Bishr, and Al-Anfoushi, are the most threatened”, Alexandria’s Central Administration for Tourism and Beaches (ACATB) insists social media images that recently purported to show Sidi Bishr beach submerged in water following heavy rain were misleading. Experts like Alexandria University’s professor Abbas Sharaki are clear that it will take thousands of years for the Mediterranean Sea to rise by half a meter and thus threated Alexandria,” said an ACATB statement, which went on to point out that “since 1993 the sea water level has increased by just 3 mm”.

The statement also reported that projects designed to protect Alexandria’s beachfront are progressing according to plan.

“The projects, which began 2001, are based on building giant sand bridges and concrete blocks that will provide 100 per cent protection to Alexandria’s beaches between Montazah and Miami,” said the statement. “In 2018 the second and third phase of the protection projects began, covering beaches from Miami to San Stefano, and from San Stefano to the end of the western port. We are building a 520-metre dam around the Citadel of Qaitbey to protect it from waves, and a dam by Al-Montazah gardens to protect the monumental bridge and remarkable fish ponds from collapse and erosion. A 583 metre wall is also being built to protect the Corniche near downtown Al-Raml Station Square from wave damage.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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