Natural Disasters in Egypt: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Egypt is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Millions of tourists come here every year to relax on the luxurious Red Sea beaches and learn about the country’s centuries-old history. And of course they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. Natural disasters always come unexpectedly, but with knowledge of their potential, you can prepare for them.
Climate characteristics of Egypt
Egypt is located in a predominantly tropical arid climate, which is characterised by high temperatures and low rainfall. Most of the country is desert with sparse oases. Only along the Nile are fertile lands that are intensively used for agriculture.
Egypt’s topography is fairly flat, with no large variations in altitude. It is a plateau with heights of 300 to 1,000 metres above sea level, at the base of which lies the ancient and tectonically stable African platform. A Red Sea rift zone runs along the east of the country, where earthquakes are likely to occur.
Potential hazards that could cause a natural disaster include:
- Tropical climate, heat and low rainfall, leading to frequent sand and dust storms.
- Tropical downpours in some areas cause localised flooding.
- Long coastline, where severe storms, hurricanes, tsunamis are possible.
- Active rift zone, where strong earthquakes can occur.
The importance of studying the history of disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be waiting for you can help you not only choose the right place, but also the time, the season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For instance, you may wish to consider visiting Egypt during spring and autumn, when sandstorms and floods are at their peak.
From this article, you will learn a chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in Egypt in the past.
Egypt as a whole has a low seismic hazard, but nearby regions of high tectonic activity are Turkey, the Aegean Sea and Crete. Echoes of powerful earthquakes in these regions have repeatedly reached Egypt.
18 March 1068, Saudi Arabia
On the morning of March 18 strong tremors almost completely destroyed the city of Hijab in Saudi Arabia. The intensity of the earthquake was more than 7 points, it was felt in neighbouring Egypt. The total death toll was more than 20,000.
18 October 1754, Cairo
The epicentre of this earthquake was shallow, and therefore tremors of magnitude 6 were very destructive. Two thirds of the buildings in Cairo were destroyed, killing about 40,000 people.
12 October 1856, Crete
A strong earthquake with a magnitude of about 8 occurred in the Aegean Sea near the coast of Crete. Crete and neighbouring islands were the hardest hit, but Egypt also suffered. Hundreds of homes collapsed in Alexandria and Cairo, killing scores of people.
31 March 1969, Sharm el Sheikh
In the early hours of March 31, a major earthquake struck the Red Sea. Its epicentre was near the islands of Tawila and Gubal. Several old buildings were destroyed, plaster collapsed in hotels and two people were killed.
12 October 1992, Cairo
On the afternoon of October 12, a magnitude 6 earthquake struck the Giza plateau area. More than 350 buildings in Old Cairo were destroyed and 50,000 people were left homeless. 561 people were killed.
In recent years, the north-east of Egypt has been hit harder and harder by the elements. During the autumn and winter months, there has been an increase in catastrophic heavy rainfall, accompanied by hurricane force winds and thunderstorms.
In November 2016, for example, after several days of rain, heavy rainfall flooded the resort of Hurghada on the Red Sea. The precipitation led to mudslides, interrupting traffic between Hurghada and Cairo. Three people were killed.
In February 2021, a heavy downpour already flooded Sharm el-Sheikh. The water turned streets into canals and affected the ground floors of many hotels, but no casualties were reported.
In September 2010, heavy rainfall caused several mudslides in the low mountains of Sinai. Several roads were destroyed and a number of tourist groups were stranded on excursions.
Mudslides and landslides
These disasters are closely linked to heavy rains. Rainfall erodes sandy mountainsides and leads to mudslides and landslides, the consequences of which are sometimes tragic.
In September 2008, for example, there was a landslide on Mount Mokattam on the outskirts of Cairo after a rainstorm. More than 500 inhabitants of one of the poorest areas of the Egyptian capital were buried under stone fragments. More than 30 people were killed.
Egypt is geographically surrounded by two of the world’s hottest and biggest deserts. These are the African Sahara and the Arabian Desert. Not surprisingly, Egypt is no stranger to sandstorms. These storms are particularly severe in spring from March to April and in autumn from October to November. During this period, the life of the country is paralysed for several days: the traffic stops, people try not to leave their homes.
Ancient Greek historian Herodotus spoke of a sandstorm, which covered the Siva oasis and destroyed an Arab army of 50 thousand men.
In modern history, one of the strongest storms occurred on March 12, 2020. Then a powerful cyclone formed over the Nile Delta and covered all of northern Egypt and the Middle East. Ports in Alexandria, Sharm el-Sheikh and Luxor airport were closed. More than 20 people were killed in Egypt.
Destructive tsunami waves are not a typical Egyptian disaster, but their possibility should not be dismissed.
The famous Minoan volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea generated a huge tsunami wave, which even reached Egypt and according to one version was the prototype of an Egyptian execution.
American scientists now believe there is a strong possibility of an underwater landslide in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. The landslide could trigger a tsunami that would wash away the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. It is estimated that the wave could reach up to 21 metres in height.
The biggest threat to tourists in Egypt is the arid desert climate. Sandstorms are a frequent and frightening phenomenon. Heavy flooding due to torrential rainfall has become more frequent along the coast in recent years. Earthquakes are unusual in Egypt, although the possibility of earthquakes does exist.
Summer is the safest time of year to visit Egypt, although the sweltering heat can make a stay in the country not the most comfortable. The autumn and winter months often see hurricanes and downpours, and earthquakes are more common during these seasons. The threat of tsunamis is negligible in Egypt, and volcanic eruptions are unheard of.