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Development and Climate Change In Egypt: Focus on Coastal Resources and the Nile

A boy riding a horse in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza Image: Marko Djurica

Executive Summary

This report presents the integrated case study for Egypt carried out under an OECD project on Development and Climate Change. The report is structured around a three-tiered framework. First, recent climate trends and climate change scenarios for Egypt are assessed and key sectoral impacts are identified and ranked along multiple indicators to establish priorities for adaptation. Second, donor portfolios are analyzed to examine the proportion of development assistance activities affected by climate risks. A desk analysis of donor strategies and project documents as well as national plans is conducted to assess the degree of attention to climate change concerns in development planning and assistance. Third, an in-depth analysis is conducted for coastal zones as well as water resource management on the Nile.

Given that Egypt’s population, land-use and agriculture, as well as its economic activity are all constrained along a narrow T-shaped strip of land along the Nile and the deltaic coast, it is extremely vulnerable to any adverse impacts on its coastal zones and water availability from the Nile. Climate change poses significant risks through sea level rise on the costal zone, which is already subsiding at approximately 3-5mm/year around the Nile delta. Analyses of current climatic trends reveal a warming trend in recent decades with country averaged mean temperature increases of 1.4°C and 2.5°C projected by 2050 and 2100. Higher temperatures in the semi-arid regions with resulting evaporative losses coupled with increasing water demands will likely result in decreasing water availability from the Nile. There is also some possibility of significant decline in Nile streamflow under climate change as a result of changes in precipitation, although the studies reviewed in this report offer conflicting results. Coastal zone and water resource impacts have also serious implications for agriculture: sea level rise will adversely impact prime agricultural land in the Nile delta through inundation and salinization, while the intensive irrigated agriculture upstream would suffer from any reductions in Nile water availability. Therefore, climate change is a serious development concern for Egypt.

Egypt receives around $1.5 billion dollars of Official Development Assistance (ODA) annually. Analysis of donor portfolios for the country using the OECD-World Bank Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database reveals that roughly 33% of development assistance (by aid amount) or 25% of donor projects (by number) are in sectors potentially affected by climate change risks. These numbers are only indicative, and the reader is referred to the main report for a more nuanced interpretation. In general, donor strategies do not mention climate change – although several stress the concern for water scarcity in Egypt. Some donor strategies and projects explicitly cater to improved water management and conservation in Egypt. While not explicitly recognizing climate change, any measures to promote efficiency of water use would be synergistic with adaptation to the additional stresses on water availability posed by climate change. In addition, there are a few donor projects on coastal zones. The absence of climate change concerns in these projects however could be a significant omission, given the local subsidence at several locations on Egypt’s coast, which would exacerbate the impacts of climate change induced sea level rise and saline intrusion. Regarding climate change concerns in national planning, despite existing institutions and assessments, actual implementation of adaptation measures is faced with several obstacles, including other pressing development priorities such as increasing costs of living, loss of land productivity, as well as inefficient economic policies such as the heavy subsidies for water, which make its conservation difficult.

The in-depth analysis in this report, which focuses on Egypt’s coastal zones and the Nile water resources, show that Egypt has already conducted fairly rigorous coastal zones vulnerability and impact assessments and has already started several coastal protection activities to improve the resilience to sea level rise. However, such actions are largely restricted to “hard” adaptation, and – relative to the magnitude of the problem – are still fairly limited in their coverage of vulnerable areas. Thus, there is both a need for greater coverage of vulnerability assessment and coastal protection activities, as well as to broaden the portfolio of responses beyond hard adaptation. In particular, there is a need to directly address several development and demographic pressures that exacerbate coastal vulnerability – particularly coastal pollution. There is also a need to better implement existing laws that reduce coastal vulnerability and the formulation of new regulations that correct distortions and other activities which might exacerbate coastal vulnerability to sea level rise.

Adaptation options for Egypt’s water resources meanwhile are closely intertwined with Egypt’s development choices and pathways. Any changes in water supply due to climate change over the medium term will occur alongside the certainty of increased demographic pressures (the national population is growing by 1 million every nine months) as well as the potential increases in Nile water abstractions by the upstream riparian countries. Adapting to climate change will have close resonance with adapting to water scarcity and is likely to require implementation of water demand management strategies which may require capacity building and awareness raising across institutions and society. Adaptation measures on the supply-side include ways to improve rain-harvesting techniques, increasing extraction of ground water, water recycling, desalination, and improving water transportation. In addition, regular reviewing and updating of drought responses and research into improved long-term forecasting is essential to enhance Egypt’s ability to cope with prolonged drought.

This case study also highlights the importance of the trans-boundary dimension in addressing climate change adaptation, given the need for dialog and cooperation among the Nile Basin states to address both technical issues such as sharing of data, as well as more political and sensitive ones such as water allocation. The recently established Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a first step. If successfully implemented, such an initiative can help reconcile the water use and development priorities of all riparian countries, including their capacity to adapt to any reductions or other changes in Nile flows from climate change. However, it is too early to assess the effectiveness of the NBI, given that it has been in existence for only a few years. Nevertheless, it marks an important beginning in terms of providing a cooperative forum to reconcile the water needs, development aspirations, and climate change concerns, not only of Egypt but of all the Nile Basin countries.

Suggested citation

Shardul Agrawala, Annett Moehner, Mohamed El Raey, Declan Conway, Maarten van Aalst, Marca Hagenstad and Joel Smith. (2004) Development and Climate Change In Egypt: Focus on Coastal Resources and the Nile. COM/ENV/EPOC/DCD/DAC(2004)1/FINA. OECD. (Accessed May 2014.)

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