Millions of Egyptians could be forced to migrate as climate change makes their livelihoods untenable, warns a report published last month by Egypt's environment ministry.
The report, compiled in collaboration with Egyptian research institutions, recommends the government acts both to prepare for climate change and to reduce emissions of the 'greenhouse gases' that cause it.
Egypt's coastal zone, home to more than 40 per cent of the population, will be hit hardest, says the report. As the sea-level rises, flooding and salt-water intrusion are expected to lead people to abandon land and homes, which could trigger social unrest.
Egyptian researchers cited in the report estimate that if no action is taken to reduce climate change, seawater will rise by 50 centimetres by 2050 and displace nearly 1.5 million people in the governorate of Alexandria alone.
"We cannot yet predict with confidence the nature of future climate change, but there are signs that changes will be significant and possibly severe," says Mohamed El-raey, professor of environmental physics and former dean of the Institute for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Alexandria.
The report also predicts that rising temperatures and shortages of water caused by increased demand from the farming industry and homes will put pressure on agriculture and reduce crop yields.
It predicts that as areas become uncultivable because crops can no longer tolerate the climate, farmers will move to marginal lands — whose soils are already poor — and in farming them, accelerate their degradation.
A major international study recently described this 'desertification' as one of the world's greatest environmental challenges (see Desertification 'a threat to two billion people' ).
To avert a potential crisis, the Egyptian report says the government should prioritise funding for research into the impacts of climate change on Egypt's coastal zone and how it will affect supplies of food and water. It adds that efforts should be made to evaluate technologies for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Another recommendation is that Egypt improves its capacity for climate monitoring and forecasting, and implements schemes to conserve water.
"Egypt should prepare for climate change by developing crops that can tolerate environmental stresses such as drought and salty soil," says Wahead Mahmoud Emam, a professor of environmental sciences at Ain Shams University, Cairo, and director of the Egyptian Academic Society for Environmental Development.
According to Eman, Egypt contributes only a fraction of one per cent to global emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Nonetheless, he says it is important for Egypt to reduce emissions and raise public awareness about the threat of climate change.
He adds that Egypt will launch a satellite later this year to monitor impacts of climate change on the environment.
Read more about climate change in SciDev.Net's climate change dossier.