Climate change to hurt Egypt farming, tourism

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s farming and tourism sectors could be hurt as climate change takes its toll on the country, fuelling food security concerns in what is already the world’s largest wheat importer, an environment official said.

A boy rides a horse in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of Cairo October 12, 2009. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Climate change in Egypt threatens to cut key agricultural crops, force millions to migrate, flood or alter tourism destinations, and dramatically cut water supplies, head of the climate change unit of the environmental affairs agency said.

“We are looking at an expected loss of 10 to 12 percent of agricultural land, the bulk of which is threatened to flood. But more importantly, most such land will lose fertility and productive capacity,” El Sayed Sabry told Reuters.

A rare study released this week detailed the country’s vulnerability to climate change, indicating that the government is taking heed of concerns raised by experts who say the Arab world’s most populous nation isn’t doing enough to prepare.

Tourism, a major source of revenue, could be damaged as increased acidity destroys fragile coral reefs, a major draw for divers and snorkelers, and rising seawaters wash away beaches on the Mediterranean coast, another popular tourist destination.

Tourism accounts for about 11 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product. “Climate change will permanently alter the attraction of some holiday regions,” Sabry said.

Wheat production could fall by 15 percent by 2050 if temperatures were to increase by two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and up to 36 percent if they were to rise by four degrees, Sabry told said in the interview this week.

Under one scenario, maize yields would decline by 19 percent and rice by 11 percent drop by 2050, Sabry said.

More than a third of the country’s 78 million people live on the low-lying Nile Delta, where nearly half its crops are grown. Parts of the Delta would be submerged or soaked in salt water.

“There is no doubt, this will create stress on the economy,” he said.

Some of the worst effects could be avoided by policies such as changing the calendar for growing crops, using more salt-tolerant varieties and extra research and development.

“We can’t approach matters with panic,” Sabry said.

However, a major challenge may be a decline in the flow of the Nile due to an expected 20 percent reduction in rain in the Nile Basin. A rise in temperature of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius would decrease its flow by 88 to 98 percent, the study said.

The Nile supplies Egypt with about 87 percent of its water, the bulk of which it uses for farming.