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Color Icon Egypt: Coastal Zone Development and Climate Change

Impact of Climate Change on Egypt

M. El-Raey



Physical impacts of global warming




The problem of climate change is being taken seriously by the Egyptian authorities. Low lying land in the Nile delta region is considered to be especially at risk from the effects of any sea level rise resulting from global warming. In particular, the cities of Alexandria , Rosetta and Port Said , which are major industrial and economic centres, are expected to experience serious environmental impacts, if no action is taken.

This case study of a vulnerability assessment of Alexandria governorate is based on assumed scenarios of sea level rise of 0.5m; and 1.0m by the end of the 21st century. Remote sensing and GIS techniques are used to assess vulnerability and identify sectors likely to be most seriously impacted. A general survey of the potential effects of climate change on the coastal zone of Egypt is also presented.

Introduction :

There is now little doubt that climatic changes predicted as a result of global warming, present potentially dramatic and far reaching threats to the environment, human welfare and socio-economic systems on a global scale. The industrial revolution, based on the use of coal as an energy resources, signalled the start of ever-increasing emissions of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion processes. In addition, the clearance by burning of large areas of tropical forest has further enhanced levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The result is a well documented increase in levels of CO2 in the air from below 280 ppm (parts per million) at the beginning of this century, to over 350 ppm in the early nineties.

Egypt is potentially one of the countries most at risk from the effects of climate change. It is located in an arid - to semi-arid zone. The inhabited area of the country constitutes only 4% of the total area of the country ( 1 million km2 ), and the rest is desert. Its only source of water, the River Nile, provides more than 95% of all water available to the country. The source of this water lies far to the south, from rainfall on Ethiopian hills (86%) and equatorial lakes (14%). Most of the population of Egypt (over 60 million people in total) are associated with the agricultural sector which constitutes 20% of gross national products and consumes about 80% of the water budget.

The coastal zone of Egypt extends for more than 3,500 km and is the home of more than 40% of the population. Most of these people live in and around a number of very important and highly populated industrial and commercial cities: Alexandria, Port Said, Damietta, Rosetta and Suez.

Alexandria city is one of the oldest cities on the Mediterranean coast, and is an important tourist, industrial and economic centre. The city has a waterfront that extends for 60 km, from Abu-Qir Bay in the east to Sidi Krier in the west and includes a number of beaches and harbours. Alexandria's beaches are the main summer resort of the country, and its harbours are the most important import/export link between Egypt and Europe. About 40% of all Egyptian industry is located within the governorate of Alexandria. As a result of its high population density and industrial pollution, environmental problems have affected a large sector of the community in the area.

The objective of this case study is to present a vulnerability assessment of Alexandria city to the effects of sea level rise, and a general survey of potential impacts of climate change over the area.

Physical impacts of global warming

Global warming is expected to affect Egypt in many ways. In particular, water resources, agricultural resources and coastal zones are expected to be adversely affected:

(1) Water resources :

Both water supply and demand are expected to be affected by climate change. Impacts on the supply side are likely to arise from possible changes of precipitation patterns over the Ethiopian hills (which accounts for around 85% of water flow into the River Nile), and equatorial lakes such as Lake Victoria (15%) . The effects of predicted climate change on both components are uncertain. The first is dependent on two factors, namely variation of the general cycle of the wind, El-Nino and ENSO phenomena. The second component is also uncertain due to increased frequencies of droughts and their intensities over the last two centuries. Rainfall on the upper White Nile catchment, the upper Blue Nile catchment, and the Middle Nile basin (which includes the confluence of the two major Nile tributaries), are all showing a decline in total rainfall.

A combination of salt water intrusion due to Sea Level Rise (SLR) and increased soil salinity due to increased evaporation are expected to reduce the quality of shallow groundwater supplies in the coastal areas. Rainfall measurements in coastal areas are contradictory and make it difficult to predict whether rainfall is increasing or decreasing.

The demand for water in Egypt is dominated by three major user groups: agricultural irrigation, domestic use and industry. Even if no climate change takes place at all, the population is expected to double before the year 2050, if the present growth rate is maintained. A correspondingly rapid growth in agricultural and industrial output will be required to sustain this population. It is therefore likely that any effects of climate change on water supply and demand will be dwarfed by a much larger increase in demand due to population growth ( EEAA, 1995).

Due to the importance of predicting environmental impacts which could result from climate changes affecting the Nile basin several models have been advanced. Results of their predictions are summarised in Table(1) (after Strzepek et al,1996).

Table(1):Model predictions of the impact of climate change on the Nile water budget.

Model Temperature rise ( K) Water Budget (bcm) Percent
Base 0 86 100
GFDL 3.15 20 23
UKMO 4.73 76 88
GISS 3.45 112 130

It can be seen that these models are still incapable of predicting, with some certainty, what would happen if climate change occurs. However, the indictors call for serious action. In summary, the following impacts on water resources in the Nile river basin are expected

  1. Increase of temperature increases losses by evaporation and demands for water for agricultural domestic and industrial applications increase.
  2. Change of precipitation patterns will lead to a loss of water in coastal areas if proper catchments are not available.
  3. Increases in airborne dust levels, soil salinity and domestic use decreases water quality.
  4. Sea level rise will increase occurence of saline intrusion with contamination of groundwater resources in the coastal zone.

A detailed quantitative assessment of the impacts of climate change on water resources in Egypt has yet to be produced.

(2) Agricultural and Food Resources

Intensive, multiple cropping and high occupation rates are normal agricultural practices in Egypt. More than 12 million acres of crops are cultivated annually on 6 million acres of land, giving an intensity index of 2 . Soil depletion is expected under such heavy land use unless sustainability measures are provided. Egypt is already a major cereal importer, and demand is expected to increase. As a result, the country is vulnerable to deficits in food production resulting from climate change. Expected higher prices for food imported from developed countries would aggravate the situation considerably.

Marginal agriculture and marginal farming are the most vulnerable, both to short term variations in local weather conditions and long term variation of climate. Adjusting to climate change will be made difficult by several factors: ownership of cultivated land is widespread but limited - 98% of owners have a holding size of less than 5 acres each ( CAMS, 1993). Also, many types of farming are practiced near the edge of their appropriate climate zone. These marginal factors, along with under capitalization or low levels of financing, render farming particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. (EEAA, 1995). Livestock and fisheries are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, though changes in climatic conditions and sea level rise are expected to affect populations and various species differently.

In summary, the following climate changes impacts on agriculture are expected:

  1. Increase of temperature and frequency of extreme events will reduce crop yield (some crops are more tolerant than others) .
  2. change of average temperature will induce changes of the agricultural distribution of crops.
  3. Increase of temperature will negatively affect marginal land and force farmers to abandon marginal land.
  4. Shortage of water resources will also force farmers to abandon marginal land, and increase desertification.
  5. Socio-economic impacts associated with loss of jobs, such as increase of unemployment, loss of income, and political unrest.

An assessment of the impacts of climate change on some crops have been advanced (e.g. Eid et al ,1993). However, a detailed quantitative assessment of the impact of climate change on the agricultural sectors, has not been carried out yet.

(3) Coastal Zones

Protecting coastal zone areas at risk from the affects of climate changes has been internationally recognized, particularly in Agenda 21, Chapter 17. The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC), has urged developed and developing countries to work together to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Agenda 21, Chapter 40, has also stressed the need for information for decision making concerning environmental problems and sustainable development.

The coastal zones of Egypt extend for over 3500 km in length along tits he Mediterranean Sea and Red sea coasts. The Mediterranean shoreline is most vulnerable to sea level rise due to its relatively low elevation. The wetlands of the Nile delta constitutes about 25% of the total area of wetlands in the Mediterranean region, and produce over 60% of the fish catch of Egypt. The coastal zone of Egypt is therefore particularly vulnerable to the impact of sea level rise in addition to impacts on water resources, agricultural productivity and human settlements.

Egypt's coastal zones constitute particularly important regions from economic, industrial, social and cultural points of view. In addition to increased tourism activities, a tremendous move towards building new industrial complexes is in progress at this time. Fig(1) , presents a map showing elevation contours of the vulnerable coastal zone of the Egyptian Delta.

The coastal zone of Egypt suffers from a number of serious problems, including a high rate of population growth, land subsidence, excessive erosion rates, water logging, salt water intrusion, soil salination, land use interference ecosystem pollution and degradation, and lack of appropriate institutional management systems. Realizing the importance of this zone, the Egyptian government has already taken steps towards reducing the impact of these problems.

(a) Sea Level Rise

Several general analyses of the potential impact of sea level rise on the Nile Delta coast have been carried out ( e.g. Sestini, 1989; El-Raey, 1993; El-Raey et al 1995; CRI and Delft 1993; Stanley et al. 1993) . As a result, areas of high vulnerability in the Nile delta and possible socio-economic impacts have been generally defined. These high-risk areas include parts of Alexandria and Behaira governorates, Port Said and Damietta governorates, and Suez governorate. In addition, several other smaller areas, such as those near Matruh and north of Lake Bardaweel, have also been identified. Fig(2) and Fig(3) show classified satellite images of vulnerable areas near the cities of Alexandria and Port Said (Lake Manzala), respectively.

Accurate, up to date information on elevation, land use and socio-economic characteristics is still needed for an integrated assessment of possible impacts. As a result, a complete quantitative, high resolution analysis and assessment has not yet been finalized. However, a pilot quantitative analysis, using a geographic information system and land use classification obtained by remote sensing over the governorate of Alexandria, has been carried out, (El-Raey et al, 1995).

In this study, satellite images of the governorate were used to obtain information on land use in the coastal area and were supplemented by available ground survey data. A geographic information system (GIS) was built and checked with information based on available ground data. The GIS includes data layers on land use/land cover, topography, and population density distribution over Alexandria.

A scenario of sea level rise (SLR) of 0.5m, 1.0m, and 2.0m, over the next century was assumed. Analysis of the GIS data for the three scenarios indicates the capability of the technique to map vulnerable areas and to quantitatively assess vulnerable sectors in each area. Table (2) presents gross percentage loss for each scenario of SLR. It illustrates that, if no protection action is taken, the agricultural sector will be the most severely impacted ( a loss of over 90 percent ), followed by the industrial sector ( loss of 65 percent ), and the tourism sector ( loss of 55 percent ) due to a SLR of 0.5m. Estimation of the socio-economic impact due to loss of land and jobs is possible using employment statistics relevant to each sector and taking future growth rates into consideration. Results of the impact on population and loss of employment are shown in Table(3) . It is estimated that a SLR of 0.5m in the governorate of Alexandria alone would cause a displacement of almost 1.5 million people and the loss of about 200 000 jobs by the middle of the next century, if no action were taken. Work is in progress to identify and assess vulnerable sectors in each district of the governorate.

Tables(4) and (5) show the results of the impact of SLR on the other two most important cities in the coastal zone of Egypt , Rosetta and Port Said , respectively. (El-Raey et al, 1997a,b). Again results indicate serious impact and calls for advanced planning and adaptation measures.

The most important limitation on these results is the availability of recent land-use data and reliable topographic and socio-economic data. However, upgrading the quality of topographic data using GPS (Geo-Positioning Satellites) and high resolution laser profilers, and building accurate geographic information systems (GIS) in an ARC/INFO environment, are now in progress.

Table (2): Potential loss of areas, population and land use due to SLR over Alexandria Governorate (by percentage).

Elevation SLR 0.5 m SLR 1.0 m SLR 2.0 m
Area 51 62 76
Population 50 64 79
Agriculture 93 95 100
Industry 65 70 90
Residential 45 50 75
Municipal Services 30 50 70
Commercial Areas 20 25 35
Community Facility 15 20 30
Archeological Sites 48 55 70

Table(3): Population expected to be displaced and loss of employment due to SLR in Alexandria Governorate

Year 2000 (SLR(5cm) 2010 (SLR=18cm) 2030 (SLR=30cm) 2050 (SLR=50cm)
-Area at risk (km2) 32 144 190 317
-Population to be displaced (Thousands) 57 252 545 1,512
-Loss of Employment:
a- agriculture 0,336 1,370 3,205 8,812
b- tourism 1,359 5,737 12,323 33,919
c- industry 5,754 25,400 54,936 151,200
-Total loss of employment 7,449 32,509 70,465 195,443

Table(4): Areas (km2) population displaced and employment losses due to a SLR of 0.50m in varius districts of Port-Said Governorate (El-Raey et al, 1997b).

Losses El Shark El Arab El Monakh El Dawahy

Port Fouad


Beach area 0.426 0377 7.419


13.039 21.26
Urban area 0.034 0.044 0.339


0.046 0.46
Industry area 0.015 0.002 0.018


0.016 0.05
Agriculture area 0.000 0.000 0.000


0.000 0.000
Aquaculture area 0.000 0.000 0.000


0.024 0.024
Muncipal service (#) 0.000 0.000 0.000


0.000 0.000
Transport network (km) 10.0 7.0 3.0


3.0 23.0
Population (persons) 3968 16699 6503


1021 28191
Employment (jobs) 953 4000 1558


248 6759

Table(5): Economic evaluation of beach, urban, industry, agriculture, aqua-culture areas (km2) municipal services (#) and transportation network (km) losses of Port-Said Governorate in case of SLR of 50cm.

Losses Percentage value loss

(million $)

Beach area (km2) 21.26 1.60% 2.126
Urban area (km2) 0.46 7.80% 48.0
Industry area (km2) 0.05 12.50% 5.0
Agriculture area (km2) 0.00 0.00% 0.00
Aqua-culture area (km2) 0.024 0.12% 2.40
Municipal services (#) 0.00 0.00% 0.00
Transport network (km) 23 11.73% 4.60
Population (persons) 28191 5.30%


Employment (jobs) 6759 5.30%


b) Change of Precipitation, Wind Velocity and Heat Waves

The coastal zone will also be subject to the impact of changes in precipitation, wind velocity and heat wave patterns. No assessment of the vulnerability of the coastal zones or inland areas to this impact is available for Egypt, nor is there any reliable model for prediction. However, the following impacts are to be expected to a greater or lesser degree:

  1. Increased vulnerability of slum areas to wind and flood damage, and increased frequency of floods and fires in rural, as well as in some urban, areas. Settlements built in the path of old stream torrents will be particularly vulnerable.
  2. Increased vulnerability of livestock due to shortage of water resources, increased salinity, and loss of grazing sites.
  3. Changes in the frequency, timing and duration of heat waves will affect agricultural yields, and increase number and variety of insect pests.

c) Socio-economic impact on coastal settlements

This will include the following:

  1. Inundation and salt water intrusion will compel a significant proportion of the coastal zone population to abandon their land and homes.
  2. Changes in the ecological system of lakes will reduce fish catches and drive away a large portion of fishermen and their dependants.
  3. Loss of beaches will reduce the number of tourists in coastal areas, forcing tourism dependent individuals and communities to abandon their settlements and look for jobs elsewhere.
  4. Increased saltwater intrusion will affect the management and access to archaeological sites; reduce tourism, and result in socio-economic impacts on the inhabitants of these areas.
  5. Increased unemployment induces political and civil unrest.
  6. Increased waterlogging and salinity give rise to insect and pest problems which in turn causes health problems.
  7. Increases in temperature lead to increased soil erosion and dust. Increased dust has direct adverse impacts on health, installations and equipment. Increased wind speed encourages sand dune movements and threatens coastal infrastructure.
  8. Increased humidity and temperature decrease the human comfort zone, and reduce human productivity.

3) Regional Impacts

In addition to its local impacts, climate change over Egypt has secondary regional impacts which also affect the international community. These include:

  1. Increasing temperature increases soil erosion and wind speed, which in turn increases amount of Saharan dust carried across the Mediterranean to European countries causing health and economic problems .
  2. Increased unemployment increases immigration pressure on European countries.
  3. Decrease of water resources increases friction among countries sharing the same water resources (e.g. Nile and Euphrates), and leads to political unrest.
  4. Increases in temperature and humidity increase rates of deterioration of Egyptian archaeological treasures which are considered among the most important in the world.


  1. The coastal zone of Egypt is seriously vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise and changes in weather patterns from both the physical and the socio-economic points of view.
  2. Large areas of the governorates of Alexandria, Behaira, Kafr El-Shiekh, Port Said, Damietta and Suez, are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Other vulnerable areas include Lake Bardawil, coast of Obeyedh near Matruh and the coasts of the Bitter lakes. Many otherareas on the Red Sea are also vulnerable.
  3. The coastal zones as a whole are also particularly vulnerable to changes in precipitation, excessive frequency of storm surges and changes in the heat pattern through the impacts of floods.
  4. The impacts of accelerated sea level rise (ASLR) through direct inundation, salt water intrusion, deterioration of ecological systems and associated socio-economic consequences, have been addressed.
  5. Impacts resulting from changes in the precipitation pattern, shortages of fresh water resources, loss of already scarce vegetation cover, increased desertification and associated socio-economic impacts, have yet to be studied in depth.
  6. The techniques and methodologies for vulnerability assessment of Egypt's coastal zones are reasonably well identified ( e.g. IPCC methodology based on remote sensing and GIS ). Although a quantitative pilot study has been carried out for one or more of the vulnerable areas (e.g. Alexandria governorate, Port Said,.....), current data on land use and elevation are needed before reaching a final overall assessment of the potential impacts of climate change on the coastal zones of the country.
  7. A program based on a strategic policy for costal protection and adaptation must be advanced and implemented.


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