New research centre supports adaptation efforts in Egypt's Nile Delta

June 20, 2014
José Alberto Gonçalves Pereira
In Conversation
Dr Mohamed Abdrabo is the Executive Director of the Alexandria Research Centre for Adaptation to Climate Change, a new research centre that supports Egypt´s adaptation policies for the Nile Delta.  

Abdrabo spoke with writer José Alberto Gonçalves Pereira about ARCA and the need for community-level research and engagement with local stakeholders to inform the development and implementation of adaptation plans.

The Nile Delta, an important agricultural zone in Egypt, is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change threats. Recognizing the knowledge gaps around specific impacts for the region, Mohamed Abdrabo, professor of environmental economics at Alexandria University's Department of Environmental Studies, spearheaded the establishment of the Alexandria Research Centre for Adaptation to Climate Change (ARCA) in June 2011. 

JAGP: What is the relationship between ARCA and Alexandria University?
MA: ARCA is housed within the Institute of Graduate Studies and Research at Alexandria University, and provides technical support to university staff on climate change research. ARCA invites researchers from the University of Alexandria and other Egyptian universities to conduct research related to our focus areas.
JAGP: In a recent paper (see reference below), you mentioned that ARCA was the first research centre in Egypt to use current projections of sea-level rise (SLR). You also mentioned that the centre considers the impacts of land subsidence (i.e., erosions in land mass, especially along coastlines and riverbanks) separately from changes due to predicted SLR. What do you mean by this?

MA: Most of our earlier work was based on hypothetical sea-level scenarios, not current SLR scenarios. Also, none of the earlier work examined land subsidence, whether in combination with climate change impacts or on its own. To clarify, land subsidence is a result of “land dynamics”  meaning that it has to do with natural processes of erosion and land movements and not directly caused by climate change.

JAGP: Has land subsidence increased in recent years? If so, why?

MA: Before the construction of the Aswan Dam, the flow from the Nile River would create mud deposits in the Nile Delta area and along the coast that would cancel out changes from land subsidence. The construction of the Aswan Dam reduced the amount of mud deposits, and that has led to SLR having a greater impact in the Nile Delta (see note below).

JAGP: One of the centre’s research findings shows that a considerable proportion of the areas under threat are wetlands and/or undeveloped land. How does this influence overall adaptation costs?

MA: Adaptation costs will depend on the side effects from SLR, such as saltwater polluting groundwater. This effect was recently explored in another IDRC-supported project, which looked at the impacts of SLR on the coastal area along the Damietta governorate, where the Nile River meets the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier studies considered the impacts on current socio-economic conditions, but did not explore any future implications. If no precautionary actions are taken to limit development in the Nile Delta’s most vulnerable areas, then costs relating to damage and adaptation will increase dramatically.

JAGP: What are the ecological impacts of flooding in undeveloped areas and wetlands due to SLR? How will this affect people living in surrounding areas?

MA: One of the centre’s research projects is currently looking at this, by assessing impact of SLR and trying to calculate the financial impacts of flooding.

JAGP: You mentioned that ARCA’s research projects have potential for community ownership. What does this mean?

MA: When you conduct research at the community level and involve local stakeholders, this gives you the chance to get their feedback early on and to better integrate their views into potential solutions. Early engagement can help stakeholders have a deeper understanding of the problems, better appreciate the need for research, and be more willing to apply the results of research through developing and implementing adaptation strategies. Involving them early on in the process helps ensure that they take more ownership over the outcomes of the research.

José Alberto Gonçalves Pereira is a Brazil-based writer.


This interview is part of the In Conversation series, The project Establishing the Alexandria Research Centre for Adaptation to Climate Change (ARCA), is funded by IDRC's Climate Change and Water program and is being carried out by the University of Alexandria in Egypt. 

Visit the ARCA website

Watch an interview with researcher Mohammed Abdrabo
  In conversation with Mohammed Abdrabo


  1. Hassaan, M. and Abdrabo M.A (2013). Vulnerability of the Nile Delta coastal areas to inundation by sea level rise. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Vol. 185, No. 8, pp. 6607-6616. 
  2. The Aswan Dam opened in January 1971 and serves to provide water for irrigation, control floods, and generate hydroelectricity. There have also been some negative impacts following the construction of the dam, such as trapping silt with high fertilizer value in reservoirs and canals, thus reducing agricultural productivity.