Although they cover less than 8% of the world’s surface, marine coasts are vital to our environment and economy. Approximately 70% of the world’s population is within a day’s walk of the coast and two-thirds of the world’s cities are situated along coasts.
Egypt’s very populated coasts extend over 3500 km and are exceptionally vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise. According to the World Bank, a rise of 1 meter would flood one-fourth of the Nile Delta, forcing about 10% of Egypt’s population from their homes. Apart from climate-induced migration, food security will be affected as the Delta is the most cultivated part of Egypt’s land, and the aquifers and irrigation waters will be contaminated by salt water intrusions from the Mediterranean.
The 31st Cairo Climate Talks brought together experts from Egypt and Germany to share coastal protection strategies and discuss the threats that sea level rise and coastal degradation present.
Mr. Christoph Retzlaff, Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Cairo opened the public panel discussion at the GreEEK Campus in downtown Cairo, Monday evening with a quote from Voltaire: “Men argue, nature acts”
“Indeed, men argue about climate change, just as we do tonight. I am, however, convinced that arguing and discussing such complex issues and, therefore, bringing them to public attention is useful. Especially if words are followed by action,” Retzlaff said.
“Egyptian coasts are exceptionally vulnerable to climate change. Consequences of sea-level rise are multi-faceted: Coastlines are densely populated and industries have strategically settled near harbors along the Mediterranean. Cities such as Alexandria, Damietta and Port Said are among the most vulnerable: Rising sea levels might cause thousands of inhabitants to move from their homes and industries to relocate.”
Dr. Khaled Kheir El Deen, Head of Environment and Climate Research Institute at the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, said the shore protection authority is responsible for maintaining and building sea barriers that lessen the impact of storms and waves on the northern coast. However, adjusting those structures have not yet been adjusted to account for potential climate change impacts.
“When we are talking about sea level rise of 1 meter, this is a completely different issue. It costs a lot because it’s not a normal design; I have to redesign, heighten all the walls, everything. Shore protection structures are very costly also and when it comes to raising the level the cost jumps exponentially”, El Deen said.
Efforts should be increased to raise public awareness among farmers and fishermen, and enforce environmental laws and building codes restricting development of sensitive or at risk areas along the shores, he added.
However, prompting political action on sea level rise and other climate change impacts is challenging in a country that faces so many other, more immediately visible problems.
“There is a [coastal management] plan now, however in my opinion the problem will be in implementing it and especially the lack of finances for the plan,” El Deen said. “I’m sure this will cost a lot of money and from the point of view of the decision maker if he compromises between what the country needs now and what it needs in 50 years, this is a significant issue.”
Sharing insights from shore protection done along the Wadden Sea in Germany, Dr. Peter Michael Link, Associated Researcher at the Research Group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC), Universität Hamburg, also said Egypt has great potential for natural protections which are less costly than building sea wall barriers.
Using plants such as mangroves, natural sedimentation and adding sand to the beaches can all fortify the coasts. Any coastal protection plan should incorporate multiple strategies, Link said.
“Coastal protection is not only a matter of one thing. Dykes are only possible in an area that is homogeneous, for example,” he said. “We also have islands outside the dykes that cannot be protected this way so you have to do other coastal protection measures. One way is natural protection, which means you just let the island sit as it is. On one side the sea eats away the island and deposits sediment on the other side of the island so it just moves a few centimeters over time. The speed is slow enough if people build inland they can be moved over time.”
He acknowledged that Egypt’s population density creates a big challenge and may limit the feasibility and increase the cost of certain adaptation measures.
In Germany, he said, planners use computer modeling to allocate space for 17 types of human activities on the Wadden Sea coast, including fishing, tourism and oil extraction, also taking ecological functions into account. He emphasized that any plan, once finalized has to be adhered to by everyone.
“Germans are renowned for making most rules in world and sticking to them,” Link joked. “Sometimes it’s hindering sometimes it’s helpful. If you look in coastal zone management though, it’s helpful.”
Mohamed Bayoumi, Environment Specialist with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), agreed saying, “the important part is that once there is a plan in place it has to be respected, there should be no unilateral action, that’s’ what causes problems.”
Egypt is still in the discussion phase of developing a comprehensive coastal management plan, experts said during a workshop earlier in the day.
“There is a need to develop a master plan or Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan. This is the first step in planning how to do climate change adaptation in the Nile Delta or along the coast,” Bayoumi said. “It’s a sophisticated exercise. Then the government can decide if they want to move certain facilities and leave other areas to the sea. We have to invest in the protection of some areas and leave others to the sea, but we won’t be able to engage in this exercise until the plan is complete.”
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