In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects

In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects
  1. In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects
    "In the winter, the sea attacks us," a fisherman says. "We are afraid the village will sink into the sea." The World Bank says Egypt is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change's…

Drivers maneuver through flood water after a torrential rain in Alexandria, Egypt. Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Drivers maneuver through flood water after a torrential rain in Alexandria, Egypt.

Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Egypt's Mediterranean coast, August should be prime tourist season. But the seaside restaurants in Alexandria are almost empty. Worries over security are keeping a lot of foreign tourists away. But there's a much bigger worry looming: that hotter weather and a disappearing shoreline could make Egypt's prospects even worse.

Scientists generally agree that human-made climate change – the effect of greenhouse gas emissions from things like cars and factories – is making the sea level higher and its waters warmer.

Rising sea levels are affecting the Nile River delta, the triangle where the Nile spreads out and drains into the sea. It's where Egypt grows most of its crops. According to the World Bank, Egypt — with its already high poverty rates and rapidly growing population — is one of the countries that will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Hazem Adel is already seeing some of those changes firsthand. He sells hats and woven handbags at a stall in front of a wall of concrete barriers on the Alexandria waterfront.

"The water used to flood and cover the people and their cars," says Adel. "That's why the government put up the barriers – to stop the high water so it won't flood the street."

All along the waterfront, the government has erected barriers to counter increasingly fierce winter storms. There's no beach on this part of the shore. The sand washed away years ago.

Many scientists predict a sea level rise here of more than two feet by the end of the century. Some historic buildings are already crumbling, as salt water seeps into the bricks. Entire neighborhoods could be submerged.

The Alexandria boardwalk is lined with concrete barriers to keep back rising waves. Jane Arraf/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jane Arraf/NPR

The Alexandria boardwalk is lined with concrete barriers to keep back rising waves.

Jane Arraf/NPR

For thousands of years, Alexandria's fortunes have risen and fallen with the sea.

Near the concrete boardwalk, guides lead Arab tourists through a fortress built partly on the ruins of one of the wonders of the ancient world – the lighthouse of Alexandria.

For almost 2,000 years, the stone lighthouse was the tallest building in the world. It used mirrors to reflect the sun, and fires at night, to warn sailors away from the rocks. After a series of earthquakes between the tenth and 14th centuries, it tumbled into the water. Over the centuries, the sea swallowed what had been a thriving port and even the outline of the harbor itself.

Fishermen stand on what are believed to be some of the remains of the base of the lighthouse, casting lines into the water from long poles.

Saleh Hilmi, who has been fishing here for 25 years, says the fish now are smaller than before – he throws the ones he catches to stray cats. Because the sea water is warmer, he says, the bigger fish have retreated to cooler, deeper water.

It's a big worry for climate change experts like Mohammad al-Raey from the University of Alexandria, who has been researching the potential effects of warmer temperatures and rising sea levels for decades.

"The sea level rise would affect all coasts and all beaches," he says, looking out over the brilliant blue waters of the Mediterranean along Egypt's north coast. "The models show the Middle East would increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation."

Most models predict a possible average mean temperature rise of more than three degrees Fahrenheit over parts of Egypt over the next four decades.

Raey says the effects of hotter weather, including reduced rainfall, would cut agricultural productivity by 15 to 20 percent – a huge blow to a country already struggling to feed its people.

A fisherman stands on what are believed to be remains of the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria – considered one of seven wonders of the ancient world. Jane Arraf/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jane Arraf/NPR

A fisherman stands on what are believed to be remains of the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria – considered one of seven wonders of the ancient world.

Jane Arraf/NPR

More than half of Egypt's crops are grown along the Nile delta.

All along the delta, the river banks are eroding. With rising sea levels, sea water is seeping into Nile wate…

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