Dust blows across the fertile lands of the Nile Delta (right), in Egypt, and northwestward over the Mediterranean Sea. While desertification is a concern for large parts of Africa, a different threat may be more pressing in the Nile Delta region: it is among the top three areas on the planet most vulnerable to a rise in sea levels. Even the most optimistic predictions of global temperature increase will still displace millions of Egyptians from one of the most densely populated regions on earth.
The Delta spills out from the northern stretches of the capital into 10,000 square miles of farmland fed by the Nile’s branches. It is home to two-thirds of the country’s rapidly growing population, and responsible for more than 60% of its food supply: Egypt relies unconditionally on it for survival.
But with its 270km of coastline lying at a dangerously low elevation (large parts are between zero and 1m above sea level, with some areas lying below it), any melting of the polar ice caps could see its farmland and cities – including the historical port of Alexandria – transformed into an ocean floor.
A 1m rise in the sea level, which many experts think likely within the next 100 years, will cause 20% of the Delta to go underwater. At the other extreme, the 14m rise that would result from the disappearance of Greenland and western Antarctica would leave the Mediterranean lapping at the northern suburbs of Cairo, with practically all of the Delta underwater.
Already, a series of environmental crises are parking themselves on the banks of the Nile. Some are subtle, like the river’s quiet vanishing act in the Delta’s northern fields; others, like the dramatic collapse of coastal lands into the ocean, are more striking. Major flooding is yet to become a reality but, from industrial pollution to soil salinity, a whole new set of interconnected green concerns is now forcing its way into Egyptian public discourse for the first time (click here for more information).