Aswan Heatwave: Extreme Temperatures and Power Outages Claim Dozens of Lives

The deadly heatwave in Aswan, Egypt, has claimed dozens of lives amid ongoing power outages, raising serious concerns about the country’s climate change policies and urban development strategies.
Photo: Leonard von Bibra | Graphic Design: Zawia3
Photo: Leonard von Bibra | Graphic Design: Zawia3
Rasha Ammar

On June 7th, the city of Aswan, located in the far south of Egypt, recorded the highest temperature in Egypt, reaching 49.6 degrees Celsius in the shade, according to data from the Egyptian Meteorological Authority. This extreme heat resulted in over 40 deaths within four days due to sunstroke and heat exhaustion, as well as drowning incidents from people trying to escape the intense heat. Additionally, there were numerous injuries and material losses among citizens, sparking parliamentary and public questions about the Egyptian government’s plan to address the new climate changes impacting Egyptian society.

As concerns about record-high temperatures in Egypt grow, social media platforms are ablaze with anger over the government’s continued policy of cutting and trimming trees and green spaces in various areas under the guise of urban development and road construction. The historic heat waves in Egypt are raising significant concerns about catastrophic environmental and societal impacts if the government does not implement decisive and rapid measures to mitigate these effects.

For more, read: Egypt’s War on Trees: The Hidden Costs of Urban Expansion

The high temperatures have also resulted in the deaths of over 50 illegal Sudanese migrants who were on their way to Egypt fleeing the ongoing war in Sudan. Medical sources reported that some of the bodies arrived at the hospital with burnt skin and severe dehydration. Activists shared a video showing several Sudanese migrants suffering from thirst after their vehicle broke down on the way to Egypt, with some dying from the extreme heat.

Parliamentary Movements

Fears of the crisis worsening, especially with predictions of continued record-high temperatures in several Egyptian cities, led Egyptian parliamentarians to take urgent action to save what can be saved. Several members demanded the exclusion of Aswan from the power outage schedule, as Egypt faces an electricity crisis that has forced the government to cut power for two to three hours daily across various parts of the country to reduce loads. There has been no official response from the executive authorities to the parliamentary demands yet.

Citizens have also launched the hashtag (Stop Cutting Electricity in Aswan) on Twitter (formerly X), urging the government to heed the parliamentarians’ demands and stop cutting electricity in the governorate. They consider the continued power outages under such climatic conditions, which have claimed dozens of lives, a blatant violation of citizens’ rights to live in peace and security and to cope with climate conditions.

The current Egyptian constitution guarantees the right of every individual to live in a healthy and sound environment. Article (46) states that “everyone has the right to a healthy environment, and protecting it is a national duty. The state is committed to taking necessary measures to preserve it, not harm it, and rationally use natural resources to ensure sustainable development and guarantee the rights of future generations.”

In May 2022, Egypt launched the “National Strategy for Climate Change 2050” during the COP 26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The General Information Authority describes the strategy as “long-term national plans that aim to avoid the negative impacts of climate change while maintaining the development and economic progress achieved until 2050.”

In response to the situation in Aswan, MP Reham Abdel Nabi from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party submitted an urgent statement to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly due to the “sun stroke” deaths caused by unprecedented high temperatures in Aswan. She confirmed that the power outages as part of the government’s load reduction plan affect citizens in all aspects of life, including electricity and water, and threaten their lives due to the extreme heat.

The parliamentarian also noted that the high temperatures contribute to the increased spread of harmful reptiles, as power outages may lead to deaths from scorpion stings. In her conversation with Zawia3, Abdel Nabi said that official authorities have not yet responded to her request to stop power cuts in the governorate. She explained that the high temperatures have caused additional power failures lasting up to five or six hours, and sometimes days in the case of major failures in some areas, due to transformer burnouts and other issues.

She mentioned that discussions with the governorate have led to the exclusion of areas experiencing prolonged power outages due to failures from the daily outage schedule, limiting the cut to repair time, which takes hours. Abdel Nabi emphasized that the people of Aswan face extremely difficult conditions due to the high temperatures and pointed out her efforts to provide some transportation means for high school students, elderly people, and employees in certain areas to alleviate their suffering.

Regarding governmental measures, Abdel Nabi stated that the government has not yet approved any procedures or plans to deal with the crisis, demanding swift action and the adoption of an emergency plan to protect citizens, as the heatwave is a recurring problem throughout the summer. She also called for reducing work hours for employees to avoid having them walk the streets during midday.

Ministry of Electricity spokesperson Ayman Hamza said that load reduction operations are linked to rising temperatures, as consumption has exceeded 35,000 megawatts, which is a significant figure for this time of year. He assured that load reduction will be fully completed before the end of the current year.

MP Zainab El-Salaimy from the Justice Party also submitted a request to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Electricity to exclude Luxor and Aswan from the power load reduction plan to ensure continuous electricity supply during this critical weather period and to avoid the health and material damages resulting from power outages.

MP Abdel Moneim Emam, head of the Justice Party, submitted a request to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Planning, and the Minister of Local Development (a copy of which Zawia3 obtained) regarding “tree cutting across Egypt.”

Emam stated that recently, many trees have been cut down in various governorates without suitable alternatives to compensate for the lost green spaces, causing numerous complaints from citizens and civil society who expressed concern about the negative consequences of these actions.

He highlighted in the request the main damages and complaints, including increased temperatures: tree cutting leads to a reduction in vegetation cover that helps lower temperatures, increasing the sensation of heat in affected areas, and air pollution as trees play a major role in purifying air from pollutants. Cutting them increases air pollution, affecting citizens’ health, and leading to biodiversity loss; trees provide habitats for many living organisms, and cutting them results in the loss of these habitats and the degradation of biodiversity. Additionally, the loss of aesthetic landscapes, as trees add beauty to nature and urban areas, and cutting them distorts natural views and affects citizens’ psychological well-being.

He added that an average person needs about seven to eight trees to meet their annual oxygen needs, with each tree producing approximately 100 to 120 kilograms of oxygen annually, while a person needs about 740 kilograms of oxygen annually. In contrast, each individual’s share in Egypt is about one tree; this is an extremely low ratio.

Green Spaces in Egypt: An Escalating Crisis

Studies and scientific reports indicate that Egypt suffers from a severe shortage of green spaces, which has significantly decreased over the past years. A research paper issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, published a year and a half ago, revealed that the average per capita share of green spaces in Egypt does not exceed 17 centimeters. This figure is far below the global recommendations set by the World Health Organization, which indicate the need to provide at least nine square meters of green spaces per person.

The initiative points out that the state’s projects related to canal and drain lining have not exempted villages and rural areas from the tree-cutting plan, directly affecting the rise in temperatures in those areas, despite being agricultural regions.

The General Information Authority in Egypt also highlights the seriousness of the situation on its website, noting that the per capita share of green spaces in Egypt is only 1.2 square meters. This shortfall represents a real crisis that threatens public health and the environment in Egypt, as green spaces play a crucial role in air purification, pollution reduction, mental health improvement, and biodiversity enhancement.

Climatic Deviation

Dr. Magdy Allam, advisor to the Global Climate Program and Secretary-General of the Arab Environment Experts Union, describes the current global climate situation as a (climatic deviation) that has surpassed the stage of climate change. The problem is no longer as simple as some might imagine, given the record-high temperatures, hot winds, floods, and other sharp climatic changes that significantly impact children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with illnesses.

According to Allam, these impacts directly affect various environmental patterns, primarily agriculture and food worldwide, and are a direct cause of the global food crisis. They also impact water sources and human health due to water, air, and soil pollution.

In his conversation with us, Allam stated that the current heatwave is sweeping through Egypt and the world and has led to record-high temperatures in Aswan. He confirmed that these record-high temperatures are not limited to Cairo or Egypt alone but cover most parts of the world, especially the African continent.

Allam explained that these exceptional temperature increases represent a sharp deviation from normal temperature levels, particularly in Africa, a region known for its dry climate and scorching sun. Upper Egypt is more affected due to its proximity to the African continent.

He pointed out that the temperature rises have been occurring so rapidly that they are difficult to track at times. As a result, many cities, including Aswan, are expected to experience higher temperatures, winds, sand dunes, and other climatic phenomena that represent deviations.

The Egyptian expert added that the distribution of water bodies on Earth plays a crucial role in regulating the climate, with large amounts of water concentrated in the Arctic (ice) and the northern hemisphere, while the southern hemisphere (Australia) has less. He emphasized that these distributions lead to the formation of air currents and the creation of different climate systems. Changes in these distributions, such as ice melting in the Arctic, contribute to severe climate fluctuations, including the current heatwaves.

Allam calls for urgent steps to address climate change and adapt to its effects, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing reliance on fossil fuels and

using renewable energy sources, supporting reforestation projects to increase green spaces that help absorb carbon dioxide and cool the atmosphere, and raising public awareness about the risks of climate change and how to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also highlights the importance of supporting scientific research to study climate change and develop effective solutions to adapt to its effects.

Aswan: The Most Affected

Aswan tops the list of Egyptian cities most affected by climate changes on agriculture and heritage sites, threatening its nature as a global tourist destination. According to international heritage experts, archaeological and environmental studies confirm that the risks of climate change will significantly impact Aswan and most coastal cities and cities along the Nile River, with Aswan being among the cities most exposed to climate change risks.

Studies reveal the current and future real risks threatening Aswan and its archaeological sites. The water storage in the region increases the risks of climate change and water stress, causing soil destabilization in archaeological areas and disrupting ecosystems. This poses a challenge to the protection and conservation efforts of heritage sites in Aswan, leading to varied and significant risks, including damage to the topography and population of Aswan.

Scorpions: An Additional Disaster

Aswan faces another crisis alongside the extreme heat, involving the emergence of highly dangerous and venomous scorpions from desert areas into residents’ homes. This recurring disaster has become more serious with the significant rise in temperatures. In 2021, scorpions affected about 504 people in Aswan, resulting in several fatalities.

In her testimony, Saeeda Mehran, a young woman in her twenties from Aswan, said, “The scorpion crisis is a recurring issue every year, especially with high temperatures or floods that wash everything from the mountains into the homes of residents.” Speaking to us, she noted that the spread of scorpions has become noticeable in recent weeks with the rise in temperatures, particularly in villages near desert areas, calling on the relevant authorities to address the issue before it escalates as it did in 2021 when floodwaters swept insects from the mountains into homes, causing numerous disasters.

Mehran also considers the continued power outages in the city amid high temperatures a crisis that threatens the lives of citizens, especially children and the elderly. She said, “My infant, who hasn’t completed his first year, suffered severe intestinal infections and high body temperature and is constantly ill due to the heat and lack of air conditioning and ventilation during continuous power outages for more than three hours daily in some areas.”

Tahiyya El-Sayed, 51, from Aswan, who suffers from low blood pressure, told Zawia3, “We in Aswan are used to high temperatures, but this severe heatwave is unprecedented. With the power outages, we feel extremely tired, especially the elderly like me. I have fainted more than four times in the past month, and even getting to the hospital is difficult under the current conditions and extreme heat, and it is rare to find a car during the day to take us to the hospital, which is about 15 kilometers from my home.”

Mohamed Abdelsalam, a government employee, 35, from Aswan, said, “Life is certainly difficult with such high temperatures, and we don’t see any measures for prevention or alleviating the crisis from the government. For example, I go to work daily at 8 AM and return around 3 or 4 PM. Despite being used to walking and using transportation in such hot weather, the situation this year is different. I feel suffocated and constantly exhausted.”

He added, “I have four children, the eldest in high school, taking exams these days in this intense heat, not to mention studying for long hours in a stifling atmosphere without any ventilation. We feel trapped in Aswan and hope the government responds to the parliament members’ demands to exempt the governorate from continuous power outages and provide necessary measures to protect the children during their exams.”

What Measures Should Be Taken?

Hisham Eissa, climate change expert and former coordinator of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, pointed out the absence of specific measures to address the high temperatures resulting from climate change in Aswan.

In his interview with our platform, Eissa said that Aswan is among the areas most affected by high temperatures due to climate change, as it is already a hot governorate, so it always faces problems during heatwaves.

He provides a list of the most important measures that should be activated to reduce the impact of high temperatures in Aswan or any city that may experience similar waves. The first is to adhere to what Egypt committed to in the 2050 strategy related to emission reduction measures. He pointed out that Egypt committed to the Paris Agreement in 2015 regarding emission reductions, even though it is not one of the high-emission countries.

In 2022, during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt presented a strategy for emission reduction, known as the National Climate Change Plan. In addition to emission reduction, the plan includes measures that the state must adhere to in order to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, such as reducing heat loads.

Eissa also emphasized the importance of planting and greening more areas in cities facing high temperatures and considering heat reduction in new urban planning and shading streets to help lower temperature levels. He also stressed the importance of raising public awareness about the significance of rooftop gardening, ensuring the provision of necessary healthcare (heat stress treatment rooms) in public hospitals, and adjusting or changing work hours to avoid having employees work during high heat periods.

Rasha Ammar
Egyptian journalist who has worked for several Egyptian and Arab news sites, focusing on political affairs and social issues