A general survey of the land degradation issues that affect Egypt from the arid regions of the south and east to the coastal zones along the Mediterranean and Red Sea coast. Land Degradation in the agricultural zone east of the Nile Delta is examined. The potential effects of climate change on the coastal zone of Egypt provides the principal focus. Mitigation and adaptation measures are outlined.
Only 4 % of Egypt is arable, most of it along the floodplain of the Nile but two other important zones exist. The area east of the Nile Delta and the El Fayoum Depression. Land degradation is a risk to the limited areas of cultivated land. The complex ecosystem of the Nile, which has nurtured civilizations for millennia, has already been deeply affected in the last 60 years by the construction of the High Dam in the southern city of Aswan. The giant project managed to regulate the often devastating effect of the Nile’s yearly floods, but it also deprived lands of crucial nutrients and minerals.
The dominant feature of Egypt’s Northern Coastal Zone is the low lying delta of the River Nile, with its large cities, industry, agriculture and tourism. The Delta and the narrow valley of the Nile comprise 5.5 % of the area of Egypt but over 95 % of its people of which 25 % live in the Low Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ) areas. In this context, the Nile Delta and Mediterranean Coast includes 30–40 % of Egypt’s agricultural production, half of Egypt’s industrial production, mainly in Alexandria, Damietta and Port Said.
Due to the concentration of much of Egypt’s infrastructure and development along the low coastal lands and the reliance on the Nile delta for prime agricultural land, coastal inundation or saline intrusion caused by anthropogenic climate change induced sea-level rise will have a direct and critical impact on Egypt’s entire economy. Observations confirm that sea-levels are already rising in the Nile delta due to a combination of factors including coastal subduction and reduced sediment loads due to the construction of the High Aswan Dam upstream. Land subsidence is currently estimated at 1–5 mm/year.
The coastal zone of Egypt extends for more than 3,000 km and is the home for 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. 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 salinization, 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.
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. 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) is associated with the agricultural sector which constitutes 20 % of gross national products and consumes about 80 % of the water budget.
Egypt is taking the issue of climate change seriously. The Nile Delta and coastal zones are prone to flooding due, in part, to rising sea levels. Climate change will potentially negatively affect agricultural productivity as a result of increased average temperature. Human health is also at risk due to climate change. The increased temperatures might lead to the outspread of vector-borne diseases. Coral reefs are one of Egypt’s natural resources that climate change adversely affects. Egypt seeks the help and support of the international community to mitigate the impact of climate change.