Alexandria is at risk of sinking beneath the sea, again, as climate change forces sea levels to rise. This would be an environmental and social catastrophe, but tragedy can be avoided if normal Egyptians combine forces with well-planned government policies to fight climate change and avert disaster.
I am writing this as I sit in Casino El Shatby viewing Alexandria’s corniche and sipping my hot cider, I hear the waves crashing on the wave breakers built alongside the corniche and smell the iodine that brings back years of childhood and memories spent along the shores of the historical coastal city. For a couple of minutes, my world stops. I don’t hear what my friends are saying. I just get lost with the sound, the smell and the childish search of the warmth of a sun beam breaking through the clouds on this wintery cloudy day in Alexandria, Egypt.
For a traditional Cairo citizen, Alexandria and the North Coast were the first refuge from the hot summers of Cairo. The Mediterranean city has it all. It is the second most urban governorate in Egypt after Cairo. The city is filled with attractions to keep a visitor busy – opera houses, cinemas, concerts and cultural events can all be found in Alexandria. Its library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, stands tall, telling the story of a city that has been the beacon of light and the capital of Egypt in ancient times. My photo album, as well as many other Egyptians’ photo albums, include photos taken in its citadel, and between the gardens of the presidential Montaza palace.
When I first learnt to dive, I wanted to be able to go underwater and visit the historic sunken city of Cleopatra in Alexandria. Lots of excavations were, and still are, being carried out to search for the ancient ruins of the once great civilization. Historians believe that earthquakes and tidal waves were the reason the city sunk under the Mediterranean 1,500 years ago, but now the city is once again under threat.
Sea level rise is just one of the major threats of climate change as rising global temperatures cause ice sheets and glaciers on the North and South Poles to melt at an ever-increasing rate.
Alexandria, which sits on low-lying areas, faces a climate catastrophe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global scientific group dedicated to climate change, already noted this in a 2014 assessment report. As time goes on, the extent of the disaster facing humanity has only increased. In 2019, research suggested that rising sea levels will erase more cities by 2050 than predicted before. The new research shows that some 150 million people worldwide are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050.
Alexandria’s population reached around 5.4 million people in 2021, with many particularly at risk. The city already features numerous slums and underdeveloped areas, which are likely to be severely affected by submersion as sea levels rise.
Egypt’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction, published in 2011, aims to increase the flexibility of the Egyptian community when dealing with the risks and disasters that might be caused by climate change and its impact on different sectors and activities.
The strategy adopts accommodation and protection as the two basic means of defense. It employs resources to calculate the risk of climate change on population, housing and roads and presents several proposals for adaptation to climate change in these fields.
Despite the measures taken by the government, the 2015 floods in Alexandria caused severe damage. People who are most in danger from sea level rise were transferred and resettled, but many still live in inadequate housing. The scale of the disaster led the civil society to realize the importance of spreading awareness on the topic among the public. Initiatives like “Save Alexandria” work on raising the awareness of climate change and its impact on the city.
It is the responsibility of the people and not just the government to save the city. Awareness campaigns are of paramount importance to reduce the illegal and unplanned architecture in the city’s slums. Following up on government policies and creating civil society groups that influence legislation and industry can have a major impact on the proper implementation of plans to reduce the impact of climate change and sea level rise on our beloved city. It is also the personal responsibility of households to reduce their own carbon footprint through better consumption patterns.
The city of Alexandria is just one among many cities worldwide that are in danger of submerging due to climate change and rising sea levels. It is our individual responsibility to rise and save ourselves and our homes. Implications of climate change are inevitable at this stage, but as an old saying once said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.”