Environment in Egypt Essay

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As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, the Arab Republic of Egypt has a long and rich history. Throughout much of that history, Egypt’s prosperity depended on its ability to benefit from the annual flooding of the Nile River as it deposited fertile soil from other countries onto the Egyptian shore. Egypt’s system of levees designed to control the Nile has been traced as far back as 3,000 B.C.E. In the capital city of Cairo, the Nile broadens to meet the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt’s importance to the global transportation sector was renewed in 1869 with the completion of the Suez Canal, linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. The importance of the canal led Britain to seize control of Egypt in 1882, but independence was regained after World War II.

After a long history of colonization, by the 1950s, Egypt had become one of the poorest nations in the world. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971, the largest rock fill dam in the world with the capacity to store three years of Nile water flow, was thought to be an engineered solution to the country’s underdevelopment. While the dam allowed increased intensification of agricultural production, and paired well with a massive influx of development assistance and foreign expertise, most of these technical experiments and interventions did little to reduce real poverty and in many cases dismantled local and regional agro-ecological traditions. Although the dam also provided electricity for some 20,000 rural residents, moreover, many critics believe that the environmental impact of the dam was too great a price to pay, particularly since the rich silt from the Nile is no longer available to increase soil fertility and a large amount of water is lost to evaporation.

The tourist industry, which engages 10 percent of the work force, is essential to Egypt’s economy, producing around $6 billion a year in government revenue. The industry received a major blow on April 25, 2006, when bombs ripped through popular resort towns on a national holiday. Officials have estimated that 125 people were killed in Egypt by religious terrorists over an 18-month period. With a per capita income of $4,400, Egypt is ranked 141 of 232 countries in world income. One-fifth of the Egyptian population lives in poverty, and 10 percent of Egyptians are unemployed. While 68.3 percent of males over the age of 15 can read and write, only 46.9 percent of adult females can do so. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Egypt 119 of 232 countries on overall quality of life issues.

With a 2,450 kilometer coastline bordering the Mediterranean and Red Seas, Egypt encompasses 6,000 square miles of inland water sources. The 995,450 square kilometer of land area includes the Asian Sinai Peninsula. Egypt shares land borders with the historically contested Gaza Strip, Israel, Libya, and the Sudan. Egypt is made up an extensive desert plateau interspersed with the Nile valley and delta. Elevations vary from 133 meters at the Qattara Depression to 2,629 meters at Mount Catherine. The desert climate produces hot, dry summers and moderate winters, along with periodic droughts, flash floods, and landslides. Earthquakes are common. In the spring, Egypt experiences the khamsin, a driving windstorm, and dust and sand storms are frequent. Natural resources include petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, manganese, limestone, gypsum, talc, asbestos, lead, and zinc.

As the population of Egypt has increased currently to 77,500,000, partially through an influx of refugees, fertile agricultural lands have been lost to urbanization and windblown sands. Over 95 percent of the population is concentrated in less than five percent of land area around the Nile, vastly straining resources. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita metric tons rose from 1.0 in 1980 to 2.1 in 2002. Egypt produces 0.6 percent of the world’s total of CO2 emissions, and the country has one of the highest levels of air pollution in the Middle East and North Africa. Soil salination is occurring in the areas below the Aswan High Dam, and wide areas of Egypt are being subjected to desertification.

Oil pollution has damaged coral reefs, beaches, and marine ecosystems. Water has become increasingly polluted from agricultural runoff, raw sewage, and industrial effluents. In areas outside the Nile Valley, fresh water resources are limited. While 98 percent of Egyptians have access to safe drinking water, only 68 percent have access to improved sanitation. In 2006, scientists at Yale University ranked Egypt 85 of 132 countries on environmental performance, below the relevant income and geographic groups. Low scores were received in the areas of air quality, production of natural resources, and biodiversity and habitat. Although only 0.1 percent of Egypt’s land area is forested, the government has protected nearly 10 percent of the land. Of 98 endemic mammal species, 13 are endangered, as are seven of 123 bird species.

In 1977, the government initiated the Sekem project, a network of 150 biodynamic farms established to promote sustainable development. In 1996, the Egyptian government introduced a plan to reclaim millions of hectares from the Western Desert. Like the Aswan High Dam project, the land reclamation project was criticized as an environmental disaster. In 1994, Law 4 was passed to restructure the environmental ministry, creating the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and charging it with planning, policy development, coordination, and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. The Cairo Air Improvement Project was also implemented to deal with the growing problem of air pollution, and the Environmental Protection Fund promoted projects dealing with solid waste management.

In 1999, Egypt joined nine other riparian nations in the Nile Basin Initiative designed to promote sustainable resource development and transboundary cooperation along the Nile. Egypt also participates in the following international agreements on the environment: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, and Wetlands.


  1. Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
  2. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Africa and the Middle East: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
  3. Valentine Udoh James, Africa’s Ecology: Sustaining the Biological and Environmental Diversity of a Continent (Jefferson, North McFarland, 1993);
  4. T. Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (University of California Press, 2002);
  5. Margaret Alice Murray, The Splendor that was Egypt: Revised Edition (Dover 2004);
  6. Richard F. Nyrop, Egypt: A Country Study (Government Printing Office, 1983).

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