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Climate Change or Human Interference?:What's the Real Threat to Egypt's Timeless Treasures?

Temples of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt | Source: Getty Images

The Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx of Egypt are among the most iconic structures in the world, drawing millions of visitors every year. But, according to experts, these ancient monuments could be at risk of disappearing due to the effects of climate change.

Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are having a significant impact on the structures, leading to increased erosion, structural damage, and other threats. The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, which were built thousands of years ago, are made of limestone, a material that is highly susceptible to weathering. As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, the structures are exposed to a greater risk of damage.

Experts have long maintained that one-third of every natural site and one-sixth of every cultural heritage site is under threat from the pernicious effects of climate change. However, is this claim a shield that covers the complex and multifactorial problem at hand?

Egypt, with its arid landscape and low-lying cities, is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of a changing climate. Predictions of heat waves, dust storms, and rainstorms have led to the notion that stone corrosion and loss of colour in ancient statuary are the results of these meteorological events. However, the causal relationship between these phenomena and climate change remains a topic of scientific debate and further research is needed to establish a robust empirical link.

Moreover, the claim that Egypt is warming at a faster rate than any other country is, at best, a gross generalization and, at worst, a misstatement. While temperatures may regularly surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Aswan, the effects of this temperature variation on granite monuments–such as cracks and inscriptions damage–may be due to other factors such as geomorphology, geology, and materials science.

The industrial boom in Egypt, starting in the late 1800s, has been blamed for the deterioration of the country's cultural heritage. However, this view may be a reductionist approach that overlooks the more nuanced and complex interplay between human activities, natural processes, and cultural heritage. For instance, the increased demand for agriculture and the consequent strain on the Nile ecosystem may be attributed to other drivers such as population growth, urbanization, and economic development.

The Egyptian government has launched the National Climate Change Strategy to mitigate environmental risks, including the allocation of $13 million to preserve the Citadel of Qaitbay from rising sea levels. While these measures are commendable, they should be viewed in the broader context of global efforts to address the interrelated and multifaceted challenges posed by climate change, sustainable development, and cultural heritage preservation.

The Great Pyramid of Giza | Source: History Extra

From one perspective, the iconic monuments of Egypt, including the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, face significant threats from various sources, including climate change, human interference, and unsustainable development. However, further research is needed to unearth the root cause of these threats and develop effective and integrated solutions that balance the competing demands of heritage conservation, sustainable development, and environmental protection.

The potential loss of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx would be a significant blow to our shared cultural heritage and highlights the need for continued efforts to address the impacts of climate change. It is important to recognise the potential consequences of our actions and work to protect these iconic structures for future generations to enjoy.

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Climate Change or Human Interference?:What's the Real Threat to Egypt's Timeless Treasures?

December 7, 2022

Sunshine Alaibe

3 min read

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