Coastal Membrane: Engineered Flows Across the Nile Delta Estuary

Vineet Diwadkar (MLA I AP) and Tamer Elshayal (MDesS RR)

Project Overview

Lying at the farthermost downstream point of the Nile River, the alluvial Delta is the final destination for the river’s water and sediments transported over 6,650 km before discharge into the Mediterranean. As such, the Nile Delta Estuary is a terminal site indicative of hydrological and political conditions prevalent in the whole Nile Basin shared by 10 countries. Upstream land use decisions and practices – the contentious Ethiopian Millennium Dam, land reclamation projects, or the water-intensive agri-/aqua-culture – determine the hydro-ecological conditions of the littoral zone, and hence the livelihoods of local communities. Production activities within the Nile Delta region include 40% of Egypt’s industrial activity, 50% of its protein production (through fisheries) and the majority of its agricultural production.

Simultaneously, this coastal region is a 300 km long stage for diverse types of infrastructural structures – coastal protection works, trading and fishing harbors, oil extraction platforms and shipping piers, canals and sluice gates – and hence is the product of intensive engineering control. The coastline is the start, intermediate and endpoint for a multitude of regional and global networks of circulation, for instance a landing site for submarine Internet cables, endpoint for regional oil pipelines, LNG export piers and harbors, trading and fishing ports and anchorage, as well as global shipping lines through the Suez Canal. Moreover, the littoral zone is continuously crossed by a diversity of exchange flows, for instance, salt and sediments through water currents, nutrients and toxicants through discharge canals, energy through oil and natural gas pipelines and export networks, raw materials and processed goods through coastal ports and shipping lanes, submarine data cables, as well as human and avian migration.

Accordingly, the littoral zone of the Nile Delta is both a synthetic assemblage of ecological and infrastructural systems as well as a membrane through which flows of materials, energy, people and information are intersecting and traversing. Consequently, the Nile Delta Estuary is a critical site for the investigation of how an array of global and local techno-natural circulatory networks are producing and modulating a manufactured coastline.

Project Information

Project Overview:

This project is based on the premise that estuarine zones, particularly when heavily urbanized, can be geographically conceptualized as exchange membranes for both biophysical and socio-cultural processes. The Nile River Delta is a hybrid landscape produced by hydrological processes of sedimentation and coastal erosion and is controlled by engineered structures for water management and coastal protection. As structures, sites of coastal protection works are supplemented by a range of other engineered structures (refer to diagram), facilitating different economic activities. As a membrane, the littoral zone is traversed by a confluence of regional and global exchange networks. The relationships between these flows and the Nile Delta’s engineered coastline are still unmapped.

The project’s overarching aim is to provide a common spatial platform in order to:

1- To understand how coastal engineering in the Nile Delta mediates hydrological processes of sedimentation and erosion to construct a synthetic coastline, and to examine the spatial implications/opportunities of these coastal protection works as infrastructural landscapes.

2- To investigate the professional and institutional context in charge of the construction, management, governance and use of engineered coastal works.

3- To explore the potentials of novel cartographic and diagrammatic representation practices to qualify the infrastructural landscapes of coastal protection as sites for critical spatial intervention.

TASK ONE: Site visits for major projects of seawalls, breakwaters and groin as well as petrochemical exporting jetties; photographic documentation and mapping of sites.

TASK TWO: Interviewing officials and engineers at Coastal Research Institute, Egyptian Shores Protection Agency, and other governmental bodies and companies involved in coastal infrastructural projects (refer to the list of stakeholders).

Project Background

Lying at the farthermost downstream point of the Nile River, the alluvial Delta is the final destination for the river’s water and sediments transported over 6,650 km before discharge into the Mediterranean. As such, the Nile Delta Estuary is a terminal site indicative of hydrological and political conditions prevalent in the whole Nile Basin shared by 10 countries. Upstream land use decisions and practices – the contentious Ethiopian Millennium Dam, land reclamation projects, or the water-intensive agri-/aqua-culture – determine the hydro-ecological conditions of the coastline, and hence the livelihoods of local communities. Production activities within the Nile Delta region include 40% of Egypt’s industrial activity, 50% of its protein production (through fisheries) and the majority of its agricultural production.

Simultaneously, this coastal region is a 300 km long stage for diverse types of infrastructural structures – coastal protection works, trading and fishing harbors, oil extraction platforms and shipping piers, canals and sluice gates – and hence is the product of intensive engineering control. The coastline is the start, intermediate and endpoint for a multitude of regional and global networks of circulation, for instance a landing site for submarine Internet cables, endpoint for regional oil pipelines, LNG export piers and harbors, trading and fishing ports and anchorage, as well as global shipping lines through the Suez Canal. Moreover, the littoral zone is continuously crossed by a diversity of exchange flows, for instance, salt and sediments through water currents, nutrients and toxicants through discharge canals, energy through oil and natural gas pipelines and export networks, raw materials and processed goods through coastal ports and shipping lanes, submarine data cables, as well as human and avian migration.

Accordingly, the littoral zone of the Nile Delta is both a synthetic assemblage of ecological and infrastructural systems as well as a membrane through which flows of materials, energy, people and information are intersecting and traversing. Consequently, the Nile Delta Estuary is a critical site for the investigation of how an array of global and local techno-natural circulatory networks are producing and modulating a manufactured coastline.

Project Description

This project is based on the premise that estuarine zones, particularly when heavily urbanized, can be geographically conceptualized as exchange membranes for both biophysical and socio-cultural processes. The Nile River Delta is a hybrid landscape produced by hydrological processes of sedimentation and coastal erosion and is controlled by engineered structures for water management and coastal protection. As structures, sites of coastal protection works are supplemented by a range of other engineered structures (refer to diagram), facilitating different economic activities. As a membrane, the littoral zone is traversed by a confluence of regional and global exchange networks. The relationships between these flows and the Nile Delta’s engineered coastline are still unmapped. We aim to provide a common platform with stakeholders to advocate for a more integrative outlook for the Nile Delta and those dependent upon it.

OBJECTIVE ONE: To understand how coastal engineering in the Nile Delta mediates hydrological processes of sedimentation and erosion to construct a synthetic coastline, and to examine the spatial implications/opportunities of these coastal protection works as infrastructural landscapes.

TASK ONE: Site visits for major projects of seawalls, breakwaters and groin as well as petrochemical exporting jetties; photographic documentation and mapping of sites.

OBJECTIVE TWO: To investigate the professional and institutional context in charge of the construction, management, governance and use of engineered coastal works.

TASK TWO: Interviewing officials and engineers at Coastal Research Institute, Egyptian Shores Protection Agency, and other governmental bodies and companies involved in coastal infrastructural projects (refer to the list of stakeholders).

OBJECTIVE THREE: To explore the potentials of novel cartographic and diagrammatic representation practices to qualify the infrastructural landscapes of coastal protection as sites for critical spatial intervention and design agency.

TASK THREE: Collaboration with two local NGOs in establishing a shared cartographic framework for the coastal region of the Nile Delta, and the production of an infrastructural portrait of the coastline through the use of geospatial data, diagrammatic sections and spatial narratives in the form of ‘throughlines’. Our project is guided by several key precedents: first, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Coastal Engineering Manual, as the archetypal operations and construction manual for coastal engineering; secondly, Richard Misrach and Kate Orff’s Petrochemical America, as a carto-graphic, photographic and textual documentation of synergetic ecologies; and the American Planning Association’s Delta Urbanism as a study linking this ecological interface as a critical urban subject. Our project differs from these precedents in that it attempts to test emerging disciplinary thinking and methodologies within the critical conditions of estuarine sites in the Global South.

AIM / CONTRIBUTION: Our aim is to advance ‘engineered’ landscapes as emblematic sites of a post-”natural” contemporary global condition. In the context of socio-political water resources management, coastal and ecological engineering are increasingly mediating estuarine goods and services. Such synthetic sites beg for more disciplinary attention from Landscape Architecture and demand unorthodox conceptual positions and novel sets of professional tools. By working on this case study of an engineered coastline, we aspire to contribute to the this critical moment in the evolution of Landscape Architecture and allied spatial disciplines.

Project Methods

REVIEW OF EXISTING RESEARCH

During the 2012 – 2013 academic year, we have been collecting and reviewing existing cartographic materials, remote sensing imagery and published literature from sources including the Harvard Pusey Map Collection and Cabot Science Library. Our geographic database includes spatial data of land-use/-cover, economic activities, natural resources, estuarine and littoral ecologies, migration routes, and infrastructural sites and networks. We have identified many key stakeholders and have established relationships in order to learn more about their activities and gain more comprehensive access during field visits.

AS PROJECTS PRECEDENTS: Petrochemical America Deccan Traverses Water Urbanism Delta Urbanism

AS PAST METHODS: USACE Coastal Engineering Manual Petroleum Economist Energy Map of Egypt UNDP Coastal Engineering Works project documents

AS BACKGROUND RESEARCH: past work of geomorphologists and ecologists on the Nile Delta (Frihy, Fanos, etc.) / Coastal Fluxes in the Anthropocene

COLLABORATION WITH LOCAL STAKEHOLDERS

We will collaborate with two local non-profit organizations, the Water Institute for the Nile (WIN) and Megawra, both deeply invested in critical dialogue about water and the built environment in Egypt. In addition, we are pursuing regular meetings with stakeholders (including policy and regulation, advocacy groups, infrastructural practitioners, research bodies) to gain access to sites and documents, better understand interests, how stakeholder operations manifest spatially on the coast, and emergent conflicts.

GROUND TRUTHING & DOCUMENTATION

Following continued project development with advisors in the Spring 2013 semester, the second phase of investigation uses site visits, stakeholder interviews, photographic documentation, and a series of planimetric and sectional surveys. A longitudinal survey along the 300km coastline aims to capture interactions between infrastructural networks traversing this littoral zone and relevant network sites. A series of transversal cross-sections through coastal protection works will be synthesized and augmented with diagrammatic descriptions. These surveys will be assembled into cartographic “throughlines” (as used in Petrochemical America) and supplemented with a collection of relevant official documents (e.g. engineering drawings for coastal protection works, cartographic materials of the official integrated coastal zone management, etc.). We will prepare coherent visual and textual narratives, merging maps, diagrams, graphs, photos and text to draw a more synoptic portrait of the synthetic Nile Delta coast.

Anticipated Outcome & Impact

RESEARCH VALUE: ESTABLISHING A COMMON FRAMEWORK

Our work aims to present a case study illustrative of synthetic landscapes as socio-natural assemblages. The critically of our site stems not only from its ecological and economic importance for Egypt, but also from its vulnerability to potential impacts of climate-induced sea level rise. The Egyptian governmental departments of water, energy, coastal and nature conservation often lack linkages with civil society organizations, and hence implement spatial agendas without a holistic consideration of their consequences. Our cartographic and research products will be shared with local stakeholders with two overarching objectives. First, by establishing a common cartographic and spatial framework, we intend to bridge the gap between governmental and civil society groups working in the Nile Delta coastal region. Secondly, we desire to promote a more integrated outlook and working process into the spatial planning of regional infrastructural projects. This will be done through three products: a project document, digital repository, and local training and communication events.

PROJECT DOCUMENT: INFRASTRUCTURAL PORTRAIT OF THE NILE DELTA

This cartographic exploration will juxtapose coastal protection works, their mediation of im-/material flows systems interfacing with them, and the resulting spatial patterns and opportunities with other built-up infrastructure, human settlements and activities, economic facilities and regulatory frameworks. The littoral exchange membrane will be investigated through cartographic mapping and a series of transversal cross-sections at coastal protection works sites. These surveys will be synthesized into cartographic and diagrammatic “throughlines” and supplemented with a collection of relevant official documents (e.g. engineering drawings, official integrated coastal zone management documents, etc.). This research will be processed and documented to prepare coherent visual and textual narratives, merging maps, diagrams, graphs, photos and text to draw a more synoptic portrait of the synthetic Nile Delta coast.

BLOG: DIGITAL REPOSITORY

Research materials, findings and cartographics will be published online through the project website (beta version at http://paldi.in/niledelta) to provide a common long-term resource for stakeholders and the wider public. Contents will include but are not limited to: collection of relevant published literature (currently uploaded); links to stakeholder projects, initiatives, papers and activities; geographic database of existing analog and digital cartographic materials, remote sensing imagery, land-use/land-cover data; the project document, access to selected project interviews, images, film, relevant websites, stakeholder projects; workshop documentation, and resources for continued local programming.

OUTREACH: CONFERENCES

We are submitting abstracts to water and planning related conferences, such as the VIIth ICON LA International Conference 2013, Water landscapes and urbanization: design, ecology and management (St. Petersburg, Russia, 5-7 June 2013), the 11th international Conference on the Mediterranean Coastal Environment MedCoast 2013 (Turkey / October 2013), the 34th International Conference on Coastal Engineering ICCE 2014 (Korea, 15-20 June 2014).

COLLABORATION & COMMUNICATION EVENTS

We will work with two local NGOs engaged with urban and spatial planning issues as well as water and environmental rights. With the Water Institute for the Nile (WIN), a think tank for water professionals in the Nile Basin, we will develop and coordinate event for Nile Delta researchers to share findings and explore the potential for follow-up research and collaboration. The event is tentatively planned to take place in mid-August 2013 at Megawra’s premises in Cairo. Megawra, a hub for researchers and practitioners in the built environment, will also provide project coordination and access to their resources and contacts directed towards urban research in the Egypt. We will work with Megawra to develop a short mapping workshop to address a need expressed by local Landscape Architecture and Urban Design students. Several other NGOs and stakeholders are interested in contributing to this research project once we are on the ground.

What have we done/learned?

The project’s fieldwork has been suspended due to the unstable political situation in Egypt during the summer of 2013. The rising social and political unrest in Egypt during the months of June and July culminated in the overthrow of the existing political regime. What has been called the 30th of June Revolution [1] was accompanied by severe lack of security on major highways and urban streets, as well as a curfew enforced by the Egyptian Armed Forces. As the political conditions were escalating, administrative authorities were reluctant to issue official permissions for our field visits; particularly that coastal protection works (our project’s subject of study) are considered part of the country’s political borders under the surveillance and control of the army’s Frontier Corps. Moreover, the fact that one of the project’s two investigators – Vineet Diwadkar – is an American citizen complicated the situation as the diplomatic relations between the Egyptian authorities and the US administration were severely stressed, with conflicting public statements on their disagreement over the course of actions and the security of US citizens in Egypt. In this environment of political tension and security concerns, the American Embassy issued a warning (US Department of State, 30 June 2013) encouraging American citizens to leave Egypt. Vineet Diwadkar left Egypt on (30 June 2013), after only fourteen days in the country and eight days of fieldwork. Tamer Elshayal – an Egyptian citizen – stayed over in Cairo; however with no possibility to resume fieldwork due to the nation-wide curfew imposed by the army.

On arrival in June 2013, it was clear that the political situation in Egypt was on the brink of a drastic change. We knew that we would not be able to accomplish our fieldwork as planned. After consulting some of our local contacts, we realized we had to change our work plan. First, we adapted our itinerary to limit our field visits to accessible sites requiring no official permission. Second, we limited our research methods to less suspicious and intrusive methods, for instance GPS and kite mapping methods were excluded. Moreover, we constrained our interviews to a smaller subset of accessible stakeholders. Our rationale was to conduct a rapid reconnaissance of the terrain and to establish rapport with a representative sample of actors to be investigated in the future.

LITERATURE & REFERENCES

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