I am used to writing about the problems of oil and the Niger Delta with its vortex of violence and vulnerability to climate change.
But what about another equally important Delta of Africa: the Nile, arguably once the world’s most famous river.
It too is beginning to suffer from the creeping consequences of our changing climate and rising sea levels.
The Guardian today carries an interesting – but all too depresssing – article about the fate of this majestic river and its vast Delta, on which tens of millions of people depend. It is home to two-thirds of Egypt’s rapidly growing population, and responsible for more than 60% of its food supply.
If the Delta dies so does Egypt.
The omens do not look good. Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared the Delta as one of the top three places most vulnerable to sea level rise. Even the most optimistic predictions on climate still have millions of Egyptians being displaced.
“We are going underwater,” one local farmer tells the paper. “It’s like an occupation: the rising sea will conquer our lands.”
The land is already being gobbled by the sea at a rate of some 100 metres a year. Some 270km of coastline lies at a dangerously low elevation. 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.
Climate change has become the latest threat to this already over-stretched Delta. “The Delta is a kind of Bangladesh story,” says Dr Rick Tutwiler, director of the American University in Cairo’s Desert Development Centre. “You’ve got a massive population, overcrowding, a threat to all natural resources from the pressure of all the people, production, pollution, cars and agricultural chemicals. And on top of all that, there’s the rising sea. It’s the perfect storm.”
The calm before the storm is being shattered by raising salinity levels, making drinking water and land unusable. Access to clean water is going to become a real issue. Harvest levels are set to plummet.
But its not just industry that faces a problem. “Unfortunately, most of our industry and investment has been built on sites very close to the shore,” says Professor Salah Soliman of Alexandria University. “There’s only so much water we can hold back.”