Invasions, fires, earthquakes—Alexandria, Egypt, has withstood many disasters during its 2,300-year history. But today, rising sea levels and sinking land threaten the entire area. Will human ingenuity be able to stem the tide?
Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt. Alexander the Great established the city along the Nile Delta with the Mediterranean Sea on three sides. Changes in sea level make this low-lying, coastal city extremely flood prone.
In recent years, engineers installed sea walls to protect the city. Sea walls are designed to prevent erosion and flooding from extreme water events. Many are made of cement, rocks, and steel. The concrete sea wall near Alexandria’s ancient Citadel of Qaitbay looks like a collection of giant blow-up toys.
Despite the sea walls, residents say the flooding hasn’t lessened. “Every year the waves are much stronger than the previous year,” says Abdel-Nabi el-Sayad. “We did not see any improvement.”
Many of Alexandria’s famous beaches show the marks of erosion. Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation says the sea rises about one-tenth of an inch per year—enough to threaten the city’s ancient landmarks.
Not only is the water rising, but the whole area is also sinking. One study predicts that more than 280 square miles of the Nile Delta could be swamped by 2050.
Experts acknowledge that sea-level trends and their effects are not well understood. Yet God isn’t confused by sea levels and weather events. As the all-wise Creator, He controls Earth’s waters. (Matthew 8:27) What’s more, He’s promised never again to destroy the whole Earth by flood. (Genesis 9:11)
However, local flooding still happens—more so in some places than others. According to Alexandria fisherman Sayed Khalil, “It is hard to imagine that [the neighborhood] will be here in a few decades.” He adds, “The area you see now will be an underwater museum.”
Alexandria’s ancient sites—those that survived its turbulent history—may also be endangered. Inland landmarks, including second-century catacombs and the medieval fortress, the Citadel of Qaitbay, could be at risk.
Ashour Abdel-Karim, head of Egyptian General Authority for Shores Protection, says waves and currents have pushed into the Citadel’s foundations. Authorities have installed concrete sea barriers visible from the downtown waterfront known as the Corniche.
“Without such barriers, parts of the Corniche and buildings close to the shore would be damaged,” Abdel-Karim says.
And on Alexandria’s Prophet Daniel Street, one of the world’s oldest roads, bookshop owner Mohammed Mahrous says, “We are aware that this street, which survived for hundreds of years, could be underwater in the coming years, in our lifetime.”