Rising seas threaten Egypt’s fabled port city of Alexandria

In this Aug. 8, 2019, photo, workers prepare to place cement blocks to reinforce the sea wall against rising water levels on the corniche in Alexandria, Egypt. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)
Updated 30 August 2019

Rising seas threaten Egypt’s fabled port city of Alexandria

  • Rising sea levels threaten to inundate poorer neighborhoods and archaeological sites
  • Experts acknowledge that regional variations in sea level rise and its effects are still not well understood

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt: Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria, which has survived invasions, fires and earthquakes since it was founded by Alexander the Great more than 2,000 years ago, now faces a new menace in the form of climate change.
Rising sea levels threaten to inundate poorer neighborhoods and archaeological sites, prompting authorities to erect concrete barriers out at sea to break the tide. A severe storm in 2015 flooded large parts of the city, causing at least six deaths and the collapse of some two dozen homes, exposing weaknesses in the local infrastructure.
Alexandria, the country’s second city, is surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea and backs up to a lake, making it uniquely susceptible to the rise in sea levels caused by global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. Its more than 60 kilometers (40 miles) of waterfront make it a prime summer destination for Egyptians, but many of its most famous beaches already show signs of erosion.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that global sea levels could rise by 0.28 to 0.98 meters (1-3 feet) by 2100, with “serious implications for coastal cities, deltas and low-lying states.”
Experts acknowledge that regional variations in sea level rise and its effects are still not well understood. But in Alexandria, a port city home to more than 5 million people and 40% of Egypt’s industrial capacity, there are already signs of change.
Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation says the sea level rose by an average of 1.8 millimeters annually until 1993. Over the following two decades that rose to 2.1 millimeters a year, and since 2012 it has reached as high as 3.2 millimeters per year, enough to threaten building foundations.
The land on which Alexandria is built, along with the surrounding Nile Delta, is sinking at roughly the same rate, due in part to upstream dams that prevent the replenishment of silt and to natural gas extraction. That is expected to exacerbate the effects of the rise in sea level, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
A 2018 study predicted that up to 734 square kilometers (more than 280 square miles) of the Nile Delta could be inundated by 2050 and 2,660 square kilometers (more than 1,000 sq. miles) by the end of the century, affecting 5.7 million people.
Residents living in low-lying areas are already coping with the consequences. A 52-year-old resident of the Shatby neighborhood, who goes by Abu Randa, said he has repaired his three-story home twice since the 2015 floods.
“We know it is risky. We know that the entire area will be underwater, but we have no alternative,” he said.
In the el-Max neighborhood, hundreds of people were forced to leave their homes after severe flooding in 2015. The Housing Ministry built nine apartment blocks to house them after declaring the area unsafe.
Sayed Khalil, a 67-year-old fisherman from the neighborhood, said the homes have flooded with seawater every winter in recent years, from both the nearby shore and a canal running through the area.
“It is hard to imagine that el-Max will be here in a few decades,” said Khalil. “All these houses might vanish. The area you see now will be an underwater museum.”
Authorities installed sea defenses to protect the neighborhood, which is home to an oil refinery, a cement plant and tanneries, but residents say it hasn’t made much of a difference.
“Every year the waves are much stronger than the previous year,” Abdel-Nabi el-Sayad, a 39-year-old fisherman, said. “We did not see any improvement. They just forced people to leave.”
The city’s antiquities sites — those that survived its tumultuous history — are also under threat.
The Pharos Lighthouse, once among the tallest man-made structures and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was toppled by an earthquake in the 14th century. The famed Alexandria Library burned to the ground when Julius Caesar set fire to an enemy fleet in 48 B.C.
But the citadel of Qaitbay, a medieval fortress built on the ruins of the lighthouse at the end of a narrow peninsula jutting into the sea, still looms over the city’s sprawling central harbor, just across from the modern Library of Alexandria, a research center inaugurated in 2002.
Ashour Abdel-Karim, head of Egyptian General Authority for Shores Protection, said the citadel is especially vulnerable. He said the increasingly powerful waves and currents had pushed into the foundations, forcing authorities to install a long line of concrete sea barriers visible from the built-up downtown waterfront, known as the Corniche.
The Egyptian government, which has been struggling to rebuild the economy after the unrest following the 2011 Arab Spring, has allocated more than $120 million for the barriers and other protective measures along the shore, Abdel-Karim said.
“Without such barriers, parts of the Corniche and buildings close to the shore would be damaged,” at an estimated cost of nearly $25 billion, he said.
Inland sites are also at risk, including Kom el-Shouqafa, catacombs dating back to the 2nd century A.D. with architectural stylings inspired by ancient Egypt. It and other sites flooded in 2015.
Prophet Daniel Street downtown is considered one of the world’s oldest, and today runs past a mosque, a synagogue and St. Mark’s Church, the seat of the Coptic Christian patriarchate.
Mohammed Mahrous, who works for a bookstore on the street, remembers when the shop was closed for a week after the 2015 flood.
“We are aware that this street, which survived for hundreds of years, could be underwater in the coming years, in our lifetime,” he said. “Every year the waves are stronger than in the previous one. The winter is harsher and the summer is more sweltering.”


Darfur victims say for sake of peace Bashir must face ICC

Updated 38 min 48 sec ago

Darfur victims say for sake of peace Bashir must face ICC

  • Jamal Ibrahim saw his sisters get raped by militiamen in Darfur

CAMP KALMA: For Jamal Ibrahim, whose sisters were raped by militiamen in Darfur, only the handover of Sudan’s ousted dictator Omar Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court can bring peace to the restive Darfur region.
“Two of my sisters were raped in front of my eyes by militiamen who stormed through our village, setting our houses on fire,” Ibrahim, 34, told AFP at Camp Kalma, a sprawling facility where tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Darfur have lived for years.
“Bashir and his aides who committed the crimes in Darfur must be handed over to the ICC if peace is to be established in the region.”
Ibrahim, who is from Mershing in the mountainous Jebel Marra area of Darfur, said his village was attacked by Arab militiamen in March 2003 soon after conflict erupted in the region.
The fighting broke out when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s then Arab-dominated government under Bashir, alleging racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a group of mostly Arab raiding nomads that it recruited and armed to create a militia of gunmen who were often mounted on horses or camels.
They have been accused of applying a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels — raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The brutal campaign earned Bashir and others arrest warrants from The Hague-based ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
About 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the United Nations says.
Bashir, who denies the ICC charges, was ousted by the army in April after months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule of three decades.
He is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption, but war victims like Ibrahim want the ex-leader to stand trial at the ICC, something the northeast African country’s new authorities have so far resisted.
Ibrahim said his father and his uncle were shot dead when militiamen, riding on camels, rampaged through their village.
“We fled from there... and came to this camp. Since then we have not returned to our village,” Ibrahim told an AFP correspondent who visited Camp Kalma last week.
Established near Niyala, the provincial capital of South Darfur state, Camp Kalma is one of the largest facilities hosting people displaced by the conflict.
It is a sprawling complex of dusty tracks lined with mud and brick structures, including a school, a medical center and a thriving market, where everything from clothes to mobile phones are sold.
Hundreds of thousands of Darfur victims live in such camps, subsisting on aid provided by the UN and other international organizations.
In Camp Kalma, hundreds of women and children queue up daily to collect their monthly quota of food aid.
“Often the officials here tell us that we must return to our village, but we can’t because our lands are occupied by others,” said a visibly angry Amina Mohamed, referring to Arab pastoralists who now occupy large swathes of land that previously belonged to people from Darfur.
“We won’t accept any peace deal unless we get back our land. We will leave this camp only when those who committed the crimes are taken to the ICC.”
Even as instances of violence in Darfur, a region the size of Spain, have fallen in recent years, there are still regular skirmishes between militiamen fighting for resources and livestock.
Sudan’s new transitional authorities have vowed to bring peace to Darfur and two other conflict zones of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
A Sudanese delegation led by generals and government officials is currently holding peace talks in the South Sudan capital of Juba with two umbrella rebel groups that fought Bashir’s forces in these three regions.
On Wednesday, the chief of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, announced a “permanent cease-fire” in the three regions to show that authorities are committed to establishing peace.
But residents of Camp Kalma are not convinced, with hundreds of them staging a protest against the talks in Juba.
Musa Adam, 59, who hails from the village of Dilej but has lived in Camp Kalma for years, is in no mood to forgive Bashir.
Seven members of his family were shot dead by militiamen when they raided his village in 2003, Adam said.
“I know those militia leaders... I am ready to testify at the ICC against them as a witness to their crimes,” he said.
“Until these criminals are taken to the ICC, we cannot have peace in Darfur.”

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