Heba Khamis / AP

Egypt: Alexandria flooding may be new norm because of climate change

Analysis: Rainstorms that killed six likely to increase in coming decades in vulnerable Mediterranean port city

An unseasonable rainstorm in the Egyptian city of Alexandria dumped nearly 10 inches of rain in two days last week, killing six people and turning the Mediterranean port city’s streets into rushing rivers. As the rains continued over the weekend, they also claimed a political victim: the region's newly elected governor, Hany el-Missiry.

His resignation, which comes less than a year after he took charge of Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city, was announced Sunday by a government spokesman amid widespread criticism over the city’s response to the deluge. 

“We are drowning in negligence,” read the front-page headline of Al-Youm Al-Sabaa daily newspaper. “The government drowns in Alexandria,” read the banner headline at Al-Shorouk, another daily.

Alexandria’s frail infrastructure, particularly its drainage systems, likely aggravated the flooding and resulted in the deaths of five people who were electrocuted by a fallen power cable, according to local media. The downpour was five times the amount of rain the city normally experiences in all of October.

Some people pointed to climate change as a major culprit. Missiry called the flooding an “environmental catastrophe” shortly before resigning.

Such flooding could become the norm in Alexandria, the World Bank has warned. It put Alexandria among the five cities across the world most at risk of flooding by 2050 as a result of climate change. The other cities the World Bank lists include Barranquilla, Colombia; Naples, Italy; Sapporo, Japan; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Low-lying Alexandria is also vulnerable to increased salination, or saltwater intrusions on agricultural lands and freshwater resources, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The city’s beaches and waterfront — both major tourist draws and vital parts of Alexandria's economy — will be heavily affected by flooding because most of the hotels, camps and youth hostels are close to the shoreline, the IPCC said.

Alexandria’s beaches would be lost with a 50-centimeter (20-inch) rise in sea level, the IPCC has warned, and the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change expects that increase on Egypt’s coast by the end of the century. Just a 25-centimeter rise in sea level would displace 60 percent of Alexandria’s population of 4 million, and a 50-centimeter rise would force out millions more in the fertile Nile Delta, which produces half of Egypt’s crops and is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion as sea levels rise, according to the IPCC.

Despite these climate-related challenges, Egypt has yet to officially announce its climate plan for the U.N. climate conference set to be held in Paris in December. World leaders will gather in the French capital to hammer out a global treaty aimed at averting the worst effects of climate change — including flooding and sea level rises already affecting Alexandria and other low-lying coastal areas.

Egypt in July formed the National Council on Climate Change, led by the Ministry of Environment, to draft and update its strategy for climate change and sustainable development. However, few concrete actions for reducing the emissions that lead to global warming or for transitioning to renewable energy sources have been officially announced.

Egypt’s Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy, during informal September climate talks in New York City during the U.N. General Assembly, stressed the importance of addressing a warming climate.

“Climate change is among the top issues to be discussed during the upcoming sideline meetings, in preparation for the upcoming climate change summit in Paris this December,” he told reporters.

With wire services and additional reporting by Richard Angwin.

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