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How climate change and population growth threaten Egypt’s ancient treasures

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Climate change and environmental degradation are threatening a major pillar of Egypt's tourism industry. (Roger Anis for UN Environment)

In his 40-something years as an archaeological excavator on Luxor’s West Bank, Mustafa Al-Nubi has witnessed a flurry of changes.

Tourist numbers have surged, fallen, and then slowly grown again. Local villages have exploded in size. Even the landscape has undergone a radical transformation, as Egyptologists slowly pick their way through the vast Theban Necropolis. “It’s like one big museum now,” Nubi says. “My grandfather would not recognize his own house.”

Yet none of this, he insists, compares to the unusual weather that’s gripped southern Egypt in recent years. Where once he could work much of the dig season – usually from October to April – without breaking a sweat, now his traditional galabeya robe is often stained dark by 10am. Winter can be chilly one day, and stifling the next. Amid periodic downpours at unusual times of the year, Nubi and his colleagues have almost got used to dashing for cover. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “But it was not like this before.”

The millennia-old treasures tell a similar tale. For much of history, conditions around Luxor were almost calculated to preserve its trove of pharaonic riches. With little rain, low humidity, and piles of swirling desert sand that cocooned the ancient temples in a protective bubble, there were few climatic concerns. And with a comparatively small local population, here on a previously isolated stretch of the Nile, there was little reason to suspect that the likes of the Ramesseum might go the way of their crumbling counterparts in densely populated northern Egypt. The pharaohs called their massive mortuary temples the temples of a million years; they were meant to last forever.

All that, however, is slowly beginning to change. Increasingly erratic weather that many largely attribute to climate change is eating away at the ancient stones. At the same time, booming population growth is complicating preservation efforts. After surviving thousands of years of war, invasion, and cannibalization for building materials, the splendours of ancient Egypt might have finally met their match. “We have a fear,” said Mostafa Ghaddafi Abdel Rehim, a senior antiquities official in Luxor. “Like all the world, we have a fear of climate change.”

Changing conditions

It starts with the temperature. The temple-heavy expanses of Egypt have always been sizzling during the summer, but it was never this hot – or for this long, both locals and archaeologists say. Some excavation days have had to be cut short, as overheating workers wilt in the exposed digging trenches. In other instances, changing conditions have even forced archaeologists to alter the way in which they document the hieroglyph-dotted walls. “We used to make blueprints using natural sunlight, but starting about 20 years ago, we found it harder and harder to burn the image onto the paper,” said Ray Johnson, director of the University of Chicago’s Epigraphic Survey, which has been working at Madinat Habu temple for almost 100 years. “It was then that we realized that it was getting hazier and hazier.” At Karnak, the gargantuan New and Middle Kingdom complex that dominates the northern approach to Luxor, blindingly bright sunshine has already robbed most of the walls of their color, leaving tourists to crane their necks up at the sheltered ceilings.

Even more worryingly, soaring summer highs also appear to be leaving their mark on the building blocks themselves. Around Aswan, several hours train ride south of Luxor, temperatures that sometimes rise well over 40 C are slowly cracking many of the rose granite structures. The granite expands in the daytime sun, and then contracts overnight in the cooler air. “It can look like a bag of wool. It gets rounder and rounder, and then eventually breaks away,” said Johanna Sigl of Cairo’s German Archaeological Institute. On her dig site at the bottom tip of Elephantine island, mid Nile, several inscriptions, including one in which a senior official records his duties collecting stone for his pharaoh, have more or less disappeared as a consequence.

The effects of climate change will only get more intense, experts say, possibly requiring some tricky decisions about the viability of maintaining vulnerable historic sites.

“In some instances these places are the foundations of a tourism industry that brings a lot of benefits to the local people,” said Mette Wilkie, Director of the Ecosystems Division at UN Environment. “But then you have a lot of buildings that are in the middle of nowhere, and here the situation is much more difficult.”

The greatest damage, however, is seemingly done during winter. Though still rare, increasingly frequent downpours are savaging ancient mud brick buildings, most of which have only lasted so long because of limited rain. “Every year, we notice this is more of a problem,” said Christian Leblanc, head of the French Archaeological Mission at West Thebes, who’s directed conservation efforts at the Ramesseum for over 25 years. “Of course it degrades the stone.” Particularly vulnerable are the temple’s half dozen arched mud brick granaries, some of the largest remaining structures of their kind, which are periodically layered with new mud bricks to shield the originals from the elements.

In 1994, a monster storm illustrated the devastation rain can wreak. Hundreds of tombs, including many in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, were swamped, the Temple of Seti I morphed into a lake, and hundreds of traditional mud brick houses collapsed. At Deir al-Bakhit, an early Christian monastery, the rain fell so furiously that it punched drop-shaped imprints into the mud brick. Wary of a repeat and fed up with frequent water-related repairs, most locals have since rebuilt in concrete.

Human impact

And then there’s the direct environmental impact of human activity. Until the late 1960s, the Nile burst its banks every August, inundating the valley for miles on either side. These were the conditions that the ancient architects knew, and they factored them into their designs accordingly. But after the completion of the Aswan High Dam, the annual flood ended, and with it came a glut of new problems for the temples. Without the regular “cleanse”, there’s no longer anything to clear the salt from the topsoil.

“It eats away at the stone like an acid,” Ray Johnson said. And with more humidity, in large part because of the enormous quantities of water evaporating off the dam’s reservoir, there’s more crystallization, as the salt particles in the temples’ sandstone blocks expand. “So the lower walls of almost all temples are missing and filled instead with a kind of breathable mortar,” Johnson added. From the toes of the Colossi of Memnon, the 700-ton statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, to the periphery of Karnak’s Sacred Lake, faint white saline traces betray the danger at hand.

Population growth, too, has levied a heavy toll. More people means more agriculture, and so instead of the fields around the temples lying dry and fallow for part of the year as they once did, they’re now under constant cultivation. It’s raised the water table throughout the East and West Banks (hydrologists suspect that the dam has also played a part), and swamped the foundations with far more water than they were designed to handle.

“Just look, there are people and water everywhere,” Christian Leblanc said. Many of the central pylons of Luxor Temple, the most centrally located of the great sites, have had to be patched up with cement after the fast-expanding city’s sewage percolated upwards. As Egypt’s numbers surge, already leaping from about 66 million in 2000 to over 95 million now, the pharaonic treasures are having to share their space with ever more houses and sugar cane crops.

“This is a phenomenon across the world, and there will be some areas where we will simply have to give up using land for our livelihood,” Mette Wilkie said. UN Environment is working to tackle climate change and environmental degradation by helping countries embrace low-emissions growth; supporting the sustainable management of forests and other ecosystems; and finding innovative new ways to fund climate action. UN Environment also helps countries adapt to the changing climate, and build their resilience to future challenges.

In Egypt, there is some cause for optimism. In fact, officials have more or less resolved the groundwater issue for the time being. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ministry of Antiquities has installed an extensive drainage network around the key sites, which has seemingly lowered their water levels by up to four meters.

“It has been a big success. The problem is fixed,” said Mohammed Abdelaziz, the ministry’s top official in Upper Egypt. Authorities have ringed many of the antiquities’ zones with walls to prevent further urban or agricultural encroachment, and established four field schools in the Luxor area to teach inspectors how to better treat the treasures and identify potential threats. All this coming at a time of new technological innovations has made some archaeologists quite bullish about the temples’ long-term prospects.

Just to be on the safe side, though, others have stepped up their documentation efforts. If worse comes to the worst, at least we’ll have a record of what’s been lost. “There is more urgency now,” Ray Johnson said. “That’s why we go first to what’s most threatened.”

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Squid Game, Style influence and Sustainable consumption

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Photo source: Netflix

Have you heard about the recent South Korean drama blockbuster named Squid Game yet? It was released on Netflix on Sept. 17, 2021, and has quickly earned a worldwide audience. Since debuting, it has been viewed by more than 100 million people and has become the no. 1 trending in top 10 lists in 94 countries around the world.

Not only topped the list, but the South Korean drama has also created a trend that has influenced fashion style around the world and dominated the online platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and several online shopping websites: Amazon, eBay, Shoppee, and so on.  On Google.com, you will find more than 223,000,000 results in only 0.53 seconds; on Amazon.com, the term “Squid Game costume” has also become a top finding, even when you have just typed only two characters “sq”, the full term “Squid Game costume” will appear and you can find more than a thousand of results about this kind of clothes. 6,150 results for Squid Game costume appear when searching on eBay. On Instagram and Facebook, the hashtag #SquidGameCostume has recently become the most popular key hashtag and could be the influent style this winter.

Unlike trending superhero movies like Captain American, Avengers, with characters wearing specialized and inconvenient costumes for daily use, “Squid Game” is full of players wearing banal teal-green tracksuits. And this style of wearing tracksuits has been promoted by luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Channel in recent years, because of its convenience and full of fashion, suitable for almost everyone from children, young people, and adults. That’s why the seemingly simple tracksuits in “Squid Game” turned out to be more trending.

The green tracksuit will likely become popular because of its convenience and ease of production, but it’s not the only known outfit, one that’s probably even more sought-after is the set of hot pink boiler suits and black masks watch the spectacle. Halloween is just around the corner, this type of costume has the potentiality to become another “red jumpsuits and Salvador Dalí masks” – a phenomenon that comes from the previous hit Money Heist.  Clearly, Squid Game costume could be a perfect choice for the one who is looking for the new and trending Halloween costume, and fashion influencers may have to queue in line after Squid Game this Halloween and winter.

With marketing strategies in all aspects that an ordinary person can reach just by picking up the smartphone, it is not difficult for “Squid Game” to be accessible through advertisements, and finding a way to win in marketing could be more easily for fashion companies and even companies that are not engaged in the fashion industry. Netflix even sells Squid Game t-shirts and hoodies on its website, and it seems that marketing the products of trending movies will become the marketing trend in the future.

However, from the environmentalist or sustainable consumption supporters’ perspective, the influences of the fads can go against what they’re pursuing. Sustainable consumption is the use of services and related products, which responds to basic needs and brings a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations. Sustainable consumption is closely related to sustainable production and sustainable lifestyles. When thinking about the relationship of a hot trend like Squid Game and its influence, we could see the 4M plus model (4M +) including Mass media marketing -Mass outfit obsession – Mass production – Mass consumption, and the plus could be the Mass damage for the environment. It may seem to be not a kind of mass production if it only happens once in a blue moon and only happens for one movie/show, but in fact, it is an unstoppable game that every director wants to win. Fashion’s influence could be a tool to reach the top trending show of the year and also be a push for the fashion industry and consumption later.

So, is the top trending show doing well in marketing and promoting fashion consumption by creating style influence, definitely Yes, but is it promoting sustainable consumption? I am not sure.

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The winner of the All About Photo Magazine contest is a picture of a happy Nenets family

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Photo: Yulia Nevskaya, "Tundra people"

The work of the Russian photographer Yulia Nevskaya “Tundra People” – a photograph of a happy woman from the Russian northern region of Taimyr surrounded by three children won first prize in the All About Photo Magazine travel photography competition. This photograph’s victory is particularly noteworthy for the UNESCO-announced Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032), which will focus on the rights of native speakers of indigenous languages.

All About Photo is a free and independent magazine that has become one of the most vibrant portals of photography on the web. Moreover, All About Photo result is one of the most far-reaching online magazines where you can find everything related to photography.

Nevskaya worked a lot in the north of Russia, including with small peoples: the Nenets and the Sami. She took many photographs in one of the most interesting and northern cities of Russia – Norilsk.

This is how she described her trip.

“Norilsk is an industrial city, there are many industries that are harmful to the environment. This city was a revelation for me. I expected to see a smoky sky and an oppressive atmosphere. But the city turned out to be full of light, a combination of shades of white and blue against the background of the silence of the Arctic, “Nevskaya said.

The main enterprise of the city – Norilsk Nickel – has been actively cooperating with the indigenous people of the region for a long time.

The Taymyr Peninsula is a peninsula in the Far North of Russia, in the Siberian Federal District, that forms the northernmost part of the mainland of Eurasia. Administratively it is part of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Federal subject of Russia.

Nornickel has been cooperating with the Indigenous Minorities of the North for more than 30 years.

The photo shows Angelina Wanga with her children Denis, Linda and Dima. The picture was taken at the end of April. Snow in the tundra will melt only at the beginning of summer.

In July, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with the support of Norilsk Nickel, the exhibition “The World in the Faces” of the famous Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin was held. The author personally presented a collection of more than 170 artistic photographic portraits of representatives of different peoples of the world, shot in authentic national costumes in places of residence. The exhibition was dedicated to the upcoming International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People and Their Languages. It is a celebration of multiculturalism and our incredible ethnic diversity at its best.

In 2018, Khimushin went to the Russian Arctic – Taimyr. The result was a series of portraits of the region’s indigenous inhabitants – Dolgans, Nganasans, Enets, Nenets, Evenks.

Khimushin became the first Russian photographer to have an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York. Works from The World in Faces project were exhibited at the University of Lille in France, and for six months were broadcast on the screen of the world’s largest digital art center in Bordeaux.

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Landmark report highlights untapped potential of Africa’s film industry

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Nigerian film actress Toyin Abraham was among entertainers who helped the UN share messages to address myths surrounding COVID-19./ Toyin Abraham

Africa’s film and audiovisual industries could create over 20 million jobs and contribute $20 billion to the continent’s combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, said on Tuesday in a new report highlighting this untapped potential. 

The African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth is the first-ever mapping of the sector, which currently employs some five million people and accounts for $5 billion in GDP across Africa.

Making creativity viable

Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General, presented the report in Paris alongside esteemed filmmakers Abderrahmane Sissako and Mati Diop.

“This landmark publication reflects on the importance of strengthening international cooperation to enable all countries, in particular developing countries, to develop cultural and creative industries that are viable and competitive both nationally and internationally,” she said.

The report aims to help the African film industry, and decision-makers, to take stock of the current landscape and plan strategically for future growth.

Africa’s potential as a film powerhouse remains largely untapped, despite a significant growth in production across the continent, the report argues. Nigeria alone produces around 2,500 films a year.

Even though affordable digital film equipment and online platforms allow direct distribution to consumers, opening new avenues for content creators, Africa is the most underserved continent in terms of movie theatres.  Currently, there is only one cinema screen per 787,402 people.

Lights, camera, piracy

The film industry also faces the significant problem of piracy.  The UNESCO report estimates that 50 per cent to over 75 per cent of revenue is lost to piracy, though precise data does not exist.  Additionally, just 19 out of 54 African countries offer financial support to filmmakers.

The report outlines further challenges, including limitations on freedom of expression, as well as education, training and internet connectivity.

Films as ‘public goods’

This year marks two decades since the adoption of a UNESCO Declaration that upholds cultural diversity as being as necessary to humanity as biodiversity is to nature.

Ms. Azoulay said in commemorating the anniversary, “we must raise our voice to reaffirm that films are indeed ‘public goods’ that require public support and investment to ensure equal access to creation, production, distribution, dissemination and consumption.” 

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