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

Controlling flooding at the source of the Nile. Photo: UNESCO-IHE

Initiated by the Development Co-operation and the Environment Directorates in 2002, this joint project explores possible synergies as well as trade-offs in “mainstreaming” climate change responses in development co-operation projects, development plans and activities. The focus is on links between climate change, natural resource management and economic development plans in developing countries.

Executive Summary

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.

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.

(Excerpts from Executive Summary)


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 Jan 2010.)

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