Egypt’s Nile Delta going bye-bye?

Egypt’s Nile Delta going bye-bye?

CAIRO: It continues to spark controversy and debate: what is going on with Egypt’s Nile Delta region. According to some analysts, and even the government, the northern Nile Delta is under threat. That threat is coming as a result of global climate change and the likelihood that the fertile soil in the lush green that comprises the Delta could be under water and untenable in decades. For now, the worry is that for farmers in the area, it could quickly see the land go the way of the Sahara Desert: unable to support the massive farms that currently persist in the Nile’s many tributaries.

An official report issued by the Agricultural Research Center earlier this month warned over the negative effects of climate change on Egypt and Egyptian agriculture amid expectations of lower production of strategic crops in Egypt such as wheat, corn and rice with an expected decline of 20 percent this year. The report said it also expects to witness the migration of 8 million people from the Delta region due to the destruction of nearly one-quarter of agricultural lands as a result of factors related to climate change.

The report said that Egypt will be affected by expected climate change, from the anticipated increase in temperatures, changing pattern of seasons and the lack of agricultural productivity of some crops and farm animals. The center expected to see changes in the agri-environmental domain, such as the adverse effects on the marginal agricultural areas and increasing rates of desertification.

The report said that rising temperatures will lead to increased evaporation and increased water consumption, pointing to the possibility of social and economic effects of unemployment as the migration of people searching for jobs from marginal and coastal areas to cities increases.

Due to the potential rise in sea levels along Egypt’s northern coast, agricultural lands in the Delta could be hit hard, the report stated.

It explained that when analyzing data from beach sites in Egypt from 1930 to 1980, it was found that sea level rose during this period at about 11.35 cm in the areas of Rasheed and Damietta in line with global standards.

Studies also have confirmed a decline in the shore line in modern times, which had led to worries that Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, could soon see itself submerged in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Many of the towns and urban areas in the north of the Delta will suffer from the rise in the level of the Mediterranean with effect from 2020 and about 15 percent of Delta land is under threat from the rising sea level and the seepage into the ground water,” Environment Minister George Maged told a parliamentary committee earlier this year.

He said joint studies by his ministry and the United Nations have assessed the situation to be urgent, adding that Egypt is planning to start an international campaign for solutions.

The center noted that the current estimates indicate that an increase between one meter and two meters in sea level will destroy a quarter of agricultural land in the Delta and force some 8 million people to leave their homes in search of safer ground.

Some experts and analysts say these figures are “exaggerated” at the present moment.

“Of course this is exaggerated. I think it’s a gross misunderstanding,” Mostapha Saleh, head of Environment Quality International in Egypt, said. He says the minister was over stating the realities in order to create international awareness of the situation facing the country, which he says could become “critical.”

Saleh believes the situation facing Egypt is in need of attention, but according to the data he has seen “if sea levels rise by one meter that would bring water inland 60 to 70 kilometers (35 miles), so it is not necessarily a large portion of the Delta.”

According to Mohamed Al Raey of Alexandria University, the threat to the Delta region – an alluvial plain that sits only a few meters (about 8 feet) above sea level – needs to be watched.

He says in an article in Al Ahram Weekly that climate change could lead “to an increase in the frequency and severity of sandstorms, and longer periods of drought followed by more intense flooding. This is expected to lead to public health problems, including the spread of epidemics, especially in poorer regions.”

A 2004 report issued by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) corroborates Al Raey’s assertions. In the study, they argue that only one degree centigrade could lead to large evaporation losses and significantly reduce Nile flows if the assumption that a four percent increase in evaporation per degree is taken into account.

Al-Raey says the Mediterranean is already on the path toward flooding Northern Egypt, raising an average of .08 inches annually for the past decade. “It has already flooded parts of Egypt’s shoreline,” he says.

The most recent report revealed that climate change will lead to a decrease in wheat production by about 18 percent, barley and corn by 19 percent, while rice crops will decrease by some 17 percent, pointing out that they are currently focusing on scientific studies and pathogens that may infect crops as a result of climate change.

**additional reporting by Mohamed Abdel Salam

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