Unlike cities which regularly endure floods because of tropical weather patterns, the city of Alexandria suffers from occasional floods. Because these floods happen sporadically, there are no mechanisms in place that can warn local authorities. The Anticipatory Flood Management in Alexandria (AFMA) project oversees the development of both long term strategies and short term actions, to better prepare the city for the next flood. We interviewed Prof. Dr. Rifaat Wahaab, IHE Delft alumnus and National Coordinator of the project.
You are an alumnus of IHE Delft. What and when did you study here?
"I was here in 1994 studying Environmental Science & Technology after completing my PhD at the University of Wales. I had heard of IHE Delft and knew it was the place to come to study water related topics. I studied under Prof. Guy Alaerts and was soon working on research related to anaerobic technology and duckweed in Bangladesh."
What is your overriding memory of IHE Delft? Any highlights of your stay here?
"The market in Delft, Mina, which had just opened, the IHE Delft community bringing together people from so many countries and backgrounds who, by the end of their stay became friends for life. The social life is very well organized (it seems even better now) and helps make everyone connect as a family."
You are now National Coordinator of the AFMA project. What were the steps in your career that led you to this position?
"I joined the National Research centre in Cairo which is the biggest research centre in the Middle East. We linked with IHE Delft and sent two PhD fellows to Delft. I was then appointed team leader at CEDA (Canadian Environmental Development Agency), but based in Cairo. I am now a Director of the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, a government-owned company based in Cairo, which operates and maintains water and wastewater treatment plants for the nation. We supply 105 million citizens in Egypt, 2,700and 450 water and wastewater plants respectively, employing 130,000 people."
When the floods occurred in Alexandria, as a member of the Egyptian-Dutch Water Panel, I proposed involving IHE Delft and particularly Prof. Chris Zevenbergen to carry out the study, which then led to the AFMA project, which IHE Delft is leading.
Can you give a little background on the project and your role in it?
"The AFMA (The Anticipatory Flood Management) project, was established, following the extreme flooding in 2015, to prepare Alexandria for the effects of extreme rainfall The primary goal is to develop and implement an early warning system, along with evacuation and recovery plans and to communicate with and prepare the community to avoid the devastating impact of the 2015 floods.
My role is to liaise between all the parties, which include 2 universities (Alexandria and Ain Shams), 2 contractors and the Alexandria Business Association, along with IHE Delft and HCWW, the holding company for water and wastewaterAs team leader for the donor funded project, I have to make sure that we achieve the objectives and deadlines of this project."
What are the next steps?
"The proposed early warning system has been accepted and we are now in the process of developing it and also a rainwater harvesting and fold management system. The early warning system must be in place by the winter. This is a unique project for Egypt and the lessons learned will be transferred to all cities at risk from flooding throughout the country."
What is the most challenging aspect of the project?
"Due to the unique model of this public private partnership, the early challenges related to getting people from very different types of organization working together optimally.This was achieved by developing scenarios and agreeing the hierarchy, roles and responsibilities on the project."
Do you have any words of wisdom for our students/future alumni?
"I think you only realise after you have finished a phase in your life how valuable an experience it was. I would encourage all students to make the most of every single opportunity for learning, not just within your own specialisation, but different related and unrelated subjects too. Also, get to know all the students you can and stay connected – you are part of a great network and you never know when you will need to reconnect with fellow alumni."
The AFMA project will develop and implement innovative infrastructure solutions, such as flood forecasting and warning, evacuation and recovery plans and increase the capacity of drainage systems. The project is a public-private partnership that aims to connect engineers, planners, architects, designers and other experts to community members, companies and local government to propose new solutions that will strengthen the city’s resilience to severe rain storms.
This project will lead to a significantly reduced impact of flooding, as a result of climate change, on society in general and in particular the livelihoods of the poorest populations of Alexandria, Egypt. To achieve this, IHE Delft works closely together with the Holding company for Water and Wastewater, Alexandria University, contracting company Montaser, Group of Integrated Design and the Alexandria Business Association.