In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects : Parallels "In the winter, the sea attacks us," a fisherman says. "We are afraid the village will sink into the sea." The World Bank says Egypt is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change's effects.
NPR logo

In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/542645647/543197299" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects

In Egypt, A Rising Sea — And Growing Worries About Climate Change's Effects

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/542645647/543197299" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The effects of climate change move slowly, but they are broad. WEEKEND EDITION is taking a look at these effects around the world. NPR's Jane Araff went to the ancient city of Alexandria in northern Egypt, where rising sea levels are causing great concern.

JANE ARAFF, BYLINE: Music plays at a beachfront restaurant in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. With tourists worried about security, the restaurants are already almost empty. But there's a much bigger worry looming. Just ask Hazem Adel. He sells hats and handbags from a stall on the waterfront. There's no beach on this part of the shore. Sand washed away years ago. There's a sidewalk and then concrete barriers to keep back the waves of the Mediterranean.

HAZEM ADEL: (Through interpreter) The water used to flood and cover the people and their cars. That's why the government put up the barriers - to stop the high water so it won't flood the street.

ARAFF: Adel is one of tens of thousands of college graduates who can't find a job. In a poor country, rising sea levels and higher temperatures would hit tourism, fishing and farming and make Egypt even poorer.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ARAFF: For 2,000 years, Alexandria's fortunes rose and fell with the sea. Near the souvenir sellers, guides lead tourists through a stone fortress built partly on the ruins of the Light House of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world. For more than a thousand years, the stone lighthouse was the tallest building on Earth. It used mirrors and fire to warn sailors away from the rocks. And then, after a series of earthquakes, it tumbled into the water. Over centuries, the sea erased the outline of the harbor itself.

There are huge, limestone blocks covered with moss rising out of the water. The tour guides here say that they were part of the base of the lighthouse. But the remains of the lighthouse itself had been submerged for centuries. What used to be a thriving harbor here is now completely underwater. Almost 1,000 years later, scientists generally agree that climate change is making the sea higher and hotter. On the Alexandria waterfront, local fishermen stand on the blocks, casting lines into the water.

SALEH HILMI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARAFF: Saleh Hilmi is trying to teach his 13-year-old son Mohammed how to fish. Hilmi has been fishing out here for sport for 25 years. He says the fish now are smaller. He throws the ones he catches to stray cats. He says bigger fish have retreated to cooler, deeper water.

HILMI: (Through interpreter) Of course, it's normally really hot here in the summer. But the temperature here has become like the Arab Gulf countries.

ARAFF: The hotter it gets in Egypt, the fewer tourists will come and the harder it will be for fishermen and farmers to make a living. It's a big worry for climate change experts like Mohamed el-Raey. He sits looking out over the brilliant, blue sea of Egypt's north coast. At the University of Alexandria, he's been researching climate change for decades.

MOHAMED EL-RAEY: The model shows that the Middle East would think increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation. The sea-level rise would affect all coasts, all beaches, all lowland beaches.

ARAFF: Most scientists predict a sea-level rise here of almost 30 inches by the end of the century.

MOHAMMED KANDEEL: Some areas would be - would have water - be covered by water. Also, some areas would suffer from seawater intrusion, which would make the soil more salty and the salinity of the water higher. So that would impact agriculture land in the northern Delta.

ARAFF: That's Mohammed Kandeel. He works for the World Bank, which says Egypt is one of the country's most vulnerable to climate change. Eventually, entire neighborhoods could be underwater. The Nile Delta that Kandeel is talking about is crucial to Egypt. More than half of its crops are grown in that triangle where the Nile spreads out and drains into the sea.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUMPING WATER)

ARAFF: And farmland along the Nile, diesel pumps bring up water from the river for irrigation. Increasingly, seawater is creeping in.

YOUSSEF GHAZALI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARAFF: Youssef Ghazali has been farming for 50 years. He says in the last few years, the water has become more and more saline. He shows me a patch of his land where he says nothing can grow.

GHAZALI: (Through interpreter) The crops die. If you water them with salty water, they die immediately. If I had good water, I could grow rice, clover, cotton. I could grow anything.

ARAFF: Just two years ago, there was rice planted here. And now I'm looking at bare earth. Off in the distance, there are crops that look like they're dying, as well, and a herd of very skinny cows.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ARAFF: Another farmer says they've had to abandon traditional crops like sugar cane because of the salinity of the water. Science on this is clear. It says greenhouse gas emissions from things like factories and cars are leading to global warming. I ask Ghazali if he's heard of human activity changing the weather.

GHAZALI: (Through interpreter) We've heard for a long time we shouldn't burn word or straw - they say because the smoke from that and smoke from the cars - it affects the temperature.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SQUAWKING)

ARAFF: Further up the Nile Delta, Bedair Mohammad, a fisherman, says winter storms have been so fierce recently. Some villagers believe God is punishing them.

BEDAIR MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) Last winter was the worst. The sea swallowed up some of the land and got closer and closer to the village. We're seeing things we never saw before in a way that could make us believe that this is anger from God on the village and its people.

ARAFF: Mohammed says fishermen here have to go further and further out to catch big fish. He shows me where the water is brown for a few hundred feet before it turns blue. That's where the sea covered what used to be bare earth.

MOHAMMAD: (Foreign language spoken).

ARAFF: Mohamed says, last year, the winds were so strong, boats were tossed from the water up onto the road. He says he doesn't know if climate change is to blame. "I can only tell you what I see," he says, "the reality I'm living in." Jane Arraf, NPR News, on the Nile Delta.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.