Heritage cities in peril

Mahmoud Bakr , Tuesday 7 Dec 2021

This year’s 11th Arab Federation for Youth and the Environment Forum emphasised the need to preserve heritage cities from the repercussions of climate change

AFYE participants at Philae Temple
AFYE participants at Philae Temple

The Arab Federation for Youth and the Environment (AFYE) launched its 11th forum hosted by the African Cultural Centre at the Nile Museum in the governorates of Aswan and Luxor from 3 to 9 December under the title “The Impact of Climate Change on Heritage Cities”.

The forum was launched a few days after the glitzy ceremony marking the opening of the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor, a city which has been gravely affected over the years by climate change and economic and other conditions.

Climate change has become a cornerstone of many international meetings, because its repercussions, such as rises in temperature and decreases in water resources, threaten world peace and stability. Climate change is a menace to efforts to combat poverty, achieve economic development, increase touristic investments, and preserve heritage cities.

AFYE Secretary-General Mamdouh Rashwan said that tourism was one of the most growing industries in the world and had become one of the most important sectors in the global economy. He explained that to help achieve development programmes, sustainable tourism had been launched as part of the green economy.

He added that heritage cities are home to intellectual, civilisational, and cultural legacies and that they belong to all of humanity and must be preserved. Today, some Arab heritage cities face problems, including neglect and the negative impacts of a lack of maintenance and sometimes exposure to looting and theft.

To achieve the goals of sustainable development, the forum was discussing youth empowerment, job creation, water issues in the Arab world, and ways to address and solve these problems and enhance young people’s participation in the knowledge economy, he said. He explained that in a knowledge economy, intellectual capital is the basis of consumption and production and that it was a key component in the developed countries’ economic activities.

AFYE President Magdi Allam said that the forum’s activities had been launched in Aswan and closed in Luxor. It had seen the organisation of sessions on climate change, water, youth, and environment issues.

On the sidelines of the forum, the attendees visited heritage sites and tourist attractions in the enchanting cities of Luxor and Aswan, Allam added. He pointed out that the forum was being held under the umbrella of the Arab League in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO), with the participation of the ministries of tourism and antiquities, environment, and irrigation and water resources, UNICEF, and the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility.

Arab and Egyptian youth taking part in the forum

Some 250 young men and women from various Egyptian and Arab universities and institutes were taking part in the forum, which was meant to create a regional platform for reviewing and exchanging experiences among young people to achieve the goals of sustainable development, Allam added.

Throughout the forum, experts were holding panel discussions and round tables for young people, who were also visiting Luxor’s forests, some of the areas earmarked for the safe utilisation of treated sewage water.

Allam warned of the dangers of climate change on Egypt’s monuments, particularly those not made of granite. He gave the example of the Sphinx, a statue made of white limestone, and thus vulnerable to groundwater accumulation. He said that monuments in Minya, Bahnasa, San Al-Haggar, and Masoud Island were facing the same threats.

Abbas Mohamed Sharaki, a professor of geology and water at the Department of Natural Resources of the Faculty of Higher African Studies at Cairo University, said that climate change was a massive global threat, referring to the recent COP26 summit meeting held in Glasgow in the UK in the presence of 200 heads of state, including Egypt’s, to address its repercussions.

The world has witnessed many climatic changes over the ages due to natural causes, Sharaki said. It has experienced ice ages and warm periods (interglacials) on roughly 100,000-year cycles for at least the last one million years.

“The hot period started 11,000 years ago. The increasing heat today is due to man’s activities, the rise in population, industrial advances, the large number of power stations, and the increase in the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. All this has led to an increase in the surface temperature of the Earth by one degree Celsius during the last century. Man’s activities have led to an increase in greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and methane, the partial melting of the Earth’s poles, and the consequent rise in sea levels, which have increased by about 20cm during the last century,” Sharaki said.

“The world’s water resources are being affected by rising temperatures, as rains, torrential rains, and floods increase or decrease in some areas, and evaporation increases. Heat and cold waves are affecting people, animals, plants, agricultural production, and heritage cities.”