It is no secret to Professor Mohamed Kassas that desertification is one of Egypt’s greatest environmental threats. But the United Nations recently removed all doubt on World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought by announcing that no other country in the world is losing its fertile land as quickly as Egypt.
Combined with urban sprawl, desertification usurps the land traditionally used to grow food, creating serious consequences for the country’s ability to feed its people. So serious that if swift measures are not taken, leading experts believe that Egypt could experience a devastating famine.
The empty bread basket
In a report released on 17 June, 2011, the UN announced that Egypt is experiencing a rapid loss of farming territory to desertification mostly because of poor land management. The soil is becoming less fertile and productivity is diminishing.
Together, urban sprawl and construction gobbles up fertile Delta land developed over hundreds of years at an unprecedented rate of 3.5 acres every hour, jeopardizing Egypt’s formerly held reputation as a breadbasket.
According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, the report inadequately conveys the seriousness of the situation since it fails to take into consideration construction on land typically put aside for farming, which puts the rate of land loss closer to 5 acres an hour.
The brink of famine
Lack of regulatory oversight and scaled back land reclamation programs on the government side are to blame for this chaos, according to Ismail Abdel Galil, the national coordinator for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
He adds that the growing food gap increases Egypt’s reliance on imports. Already, Egypt purchases much of its wheat from Russia, where agriculture is also vulnerable to natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. Last year devastating fires swept through the country, which has only recently lifted its ban on exports. A crisis in Russian became Egypt’s crisis too.
Ismail Abdel Galil said that unless the authorities act swiftly to combat desertification, the country could be on the “brink of famine.”
More on Egypt and Agriculture: