Our Perspectives

Against all odds: Egypt's fight against Climate Change


 Egyptians on the seaside in AlexandriaResidents of Alexandria enjoy the seaside in Egypt. Photo credit: Dylan Lowthian/UNDP

It’s less than a week to COP20, the UN climate change summit where nearly 200 governments will meet in Lima, Peru. This is an important opportunity for the global community to make progress on a universal and meaningful global climate change agreement, to be agreed in Paris in 2015.

Reaching an agreement is often a hard process, but if everyone is committed to it we can break through. Egypt is one example.

The Nile delta is the richest farmland in Egypt. It is fascinating that, while it covers only 5% of the total area of the country, it is home to 95% of its population. But this beautiful area dotted with tourist sights and industries faces a harsh reality: Coastal erosion caused by sea-level rise threatens low lying lands and has a direct and critical impact on the country’s entire economy.

In 2010, we started working on coastal protection, with a grant from the Special Climate Change Fund.  Our project promotes the idea that we should work with the sea rather than trying to fight nature. “Living with the Sea” became our strategy, as we aimed to strike a balance between protective, hard, infrastructure such as seawalls, and reinforcing the protection services of natural coastal systems, such as coastal dunes.

It took time and effort to convince everyone that this was the best way. One year into the implementation of the project, the Arab Spring happened. With long-lasting street protests, and political uncertainty, we were worried that the project would come to a stand-still.

But in December 2010, we were reminded by nature that time was limited and that we should press on: A big storm hit the Eastern Mediterranean and had a significant impact on the shoreline of the Nile Delta region. The strength of the event and the high likelihood of its recurrence brought everyone together with a great sense of urgency.

The project has now identified three key options for coastal protection:

1)    sand nourishment, replacing sand that is lost from coastal erosion,
2)    rehabilitate and manage the coastal sand dune system, and
3)    use low-cost dyke structures built from sludge, vegetation and other local material.

Working with UNESCO, we are also collecting and managing oceanographic data to monitor long-term trends and accelerations in coastal sea level. This is an important step towards the consolidation of knowledge and resources, and towards a commonly accepted and coherent coastal adaptation framework in Egypt.

Like all of our projects throughout the world, our work is mostly about perseverance, working with our partners and putting people’s livelihood first. In Egypt right now, we are committed to remain on the job and give the project another push to success, in spite of all the hurdles and political setbacks.

Climate change Environment Drylands and desertification Adaptation Disaster risk reduction Disaster risk management