CAIRO: It was three years ago that the Arab region began to be seriously alerted to real disaster.
The Arab countries located within the proximity of the Indian Ocean were slightly affected by the tsunami that hit 11 Asian nations in 2004, killing thousands of people living on coastal cities.
To the shock of many living in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, who never expected to feel the effects of the gigantic tidal wave, entire beaches and Corniche walks were flooded with seawater in east Oman as well as in some parts of Sharjah and Ajman in the UAE after the sea rose to levels which also threaten the man-made islands in Dubai.
For the first time, the initial symptoms of major disaster are becoming a reality in the region, located as it is in the triangle formed by the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
In Egypt and the rest of North Africa, the occurrence of a similar disaster within a predictable timespan is ruled out. However, environmental and geological reports continue to warn of a major flood that will sweep over the north of the African continent by 2050 as a result of global warming, which will cause huge chunks of ice in the North Pole to melt.
The fresh reports are sounding a significant alarm: natural disaster could be impending and would cause major loss unless we act to mitigate the effects.
Of all African countries, Egypt will be the most affected due to its abundance of low-lying coastal land, unlike neighboring countries like Libya, Algeria, or Morocco, where the coast is shielded by a series of mountain chains.
Historical evidence is likely to boost these geological predictions, for a city like Alexandria is built on the ruins of a sunken Greco-Roman city. Also, the Canopic estuary of the Nile, chronicles relate, was located in Abu Qir alongside two ancient Greek cities that were destroyed as a result of the rise in sea level.
The tsunami in Asia awakened latent concerns that geological reports relating to Egypt have been pointing to for the last 19 years. Such reports are peppered with statments by scientists as trustworthy as Farouk El Baz and Rushdy El Saeed.
Al Karama weekly, an opposition publication, carried last week a strongly-worded analysis on the issue, warning that it would be foolish to continue to ignore the warning signs.
The paper cited reports which foresee that an area of 4,500 km between Arish and Marsa Matrouh, along with major stretches of the Delta lands, will be flooded by seawater, displacing some six million people and damaging 50 percent of Egypt’s green land.
In a break from traditional reports though, the weekly pointed out that the policies and plans of investors countrywide have been drawn up in line with the deluge scenario.
It is the flip side of disaster, said the weekly, justifying the current slump in business in Alexandria and the reluctance to turn cities like Rashid or Arish into tourist destinations on an equal footing with Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada.
The weekly added that farming projects in the doomed delta have been overshadowed by interest in desert farms, while businesses involved in the sale and purchase of factories have restricted themselves to areas closer to Cairo.
According to the Al Karama report, the presaged disaster is boosting both desert investments and the race to gain monopoly over steel and cement.
For their part, some business experts negated any link between such predictions and investments. Some even argued that the last thing an investor would take into consideration was a disaster that could be decades away.
Samir Radwan, head of the Egyptian National Competitiveness Council in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt that he doubts investors would be deterred by such reports.
“An investor would only look 15 years ahead, but not 50 or 100 as stipulated by the reports, said Radwan. “We have all been following up on the subject of climatic changes but none of the reports speak of any immediate threat. I don’t think businessmen have an agenda relating to the ominous flood in the Delta, he added.
Others justified the meager interest in the Delta’s rural areas with the traditional complications involving the hike in land prices and unwillingness to give up green areas, as well as other environmental factors, all of which have caused investors to flee in search of business opportunities in the desert.
“If you examine the scene you would actually be surprised to find out that there is no land available in the north coast due to the concentration of businesses and projects, said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, of the Egyptian Businessmen Association for Tourism.
He added: “A city like Arish has been sidelined due to its proximity to the Egyptian-Israeli borders. Development hasn’t targeted places like Port Said and Rashid because the priority was given to more worthwhile destinations like Luxor and Aswan.
Abdel Rahman continued that it is not always right to ignore such predictions. Since an alarm has been sounded, investors should refer to specialists for information. There is no harm in trying to get updated.
The water and irrigation authorities in Egypt refuse to look upon the issue in isolation from the global problem. The Egyptian irrigation minister Mahmoud Abu Zeid told that press that these predictions are based on uncertain calculations and models that involve the river delta in Egypt as well as other countries in Asia.
Abu Zeid pointed out that that these calculations are subject to change all the time and despite the uncertainty the ministry isn’t blind to the issue.
Preparations come in the form of a special committee focusing on climatic change and laying out a plan to pump out sand from the seabed to expand the coast and bring down the sea-level.
Critics argue that the irrigation authorities didn’t completely rule out the reports and officials commented saying that the damage would be much less than what experts estimated.
Experts’ statements are based on scientific evidence supported by Egyptian and foreign specialists, whereas that of the irrigation officials remain unfounded, said the critics.
Ibrahim El Shennawy, head of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation’s Institute of Beaches Research told Al-Ahram Al-Masaee that the series of sand dunes expanding between Burulus, Baltim and Gamasa will act as a natural barrier against any type of flooding.
Also the international highway connecting Alexandria and Port Said is constructed above sea level and could play a similar role.
While revealing that a billion pounds have been spent on beaches since 1982, the rise in sea level by 15 cm in Alexandria and 50 cm in Port Said over the next century, is not cause for concern.
The argument is likely to continue, but no certainty can be established against the vagaries of nature.
Scientists argue that climatic changes are cyclical, observing that many countries have previously disappeared from the map when there was nothing called global warming or ozone depletion.
What is certain, however, is that sooner or later disaster is likely to happen, and The Deluge is again tapping on the memory of humanity. Ordinary people see it as the natural retribution for injustice and wrongdoing committed by the haves against the have-nots.
It is an evil that could destroy all, but it is divine, uncertain, and unpredictable.