The sinking city: Alexandria’s race against climate change
On Valentine’s Day 2023, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations Security Council, spoke to the member states about rising sea levels. With a grave tone, he warned of the implications that sea level rise will have on peace and security: “a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale”.
Alexandria is Egypt's second largest city, home to 5.5 million residents and endangered by rising sea levels. Violent winter storms increasingly batter the seafront and flash floods cause chaos in the city. UNESCO lists Alexandria as one of several Mediterranean cities that should be tsunami prepared by 2030.
The city is sinking, and as it does so, seawater is seeping into the fertile delta. More than 90 per cent of Egypt is desert and the increased risk of saline contamination of the most productive agricultural region is potentially catastrophic.
Egypt is striving to mitigate the threat. As the sandy beaches recede, concrete protective barriers are slung into the sea—a patchwork of giant slabs that stem the tide. Selfie-taking day trippers use the cement platforms to pose in front of the 15th century citadel, a testament to Alexandria’s glorious heritage, much of which already lies underneath the ocean.
The country is facing other troubles as well. Egypt's main source of fresh water, the river Nile, faces multiple threats of climatic change, urban pollution, and riparian competition. The Egyptian economy is floundering and has a growing population (60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30).
The quest for a better quality of life is often pursued abroad. Compounding this issue is the increasing difficulty of securing visas, which leads to an increase in illegal migration. The number of Egyptians using illicit smuggler routes across the Mediterranean has tripled since 2021.
Egypt contributes just a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. The European nations bear far more of the responsibility; however, they face fewer repercussions. That being said, migration and climate change are inextricably linked and the consequences of these two forces have far-reaching implications for all countries.
Once known as the Pearl of the Mediterranean, Alexandria is slowly sinking into the sea. Internal population displacement seems inevitable, rural migration is already swelling city suburbs and, as this continues unabated, the words of the Secretary-General do not sound like hyperbole, but a warning that should be heeded.