Will thirst hit Egypt?

Mohamed Abul Ghar
Thursday 11 Aug 2016

With several factors negatively affecting Egypt's share of Nile water, how will the country handle the inevitable water shortage it will face in the coming years?

A recent UN report said that 18 countries in the Middle East will suffer a great deal by the year 2025 because of a serious water shortage.

Some experts suggest that Israel is at the forefront of countries facing this problem, and that the 1967 war was actually aimed at gaining access to water resources in the West Bank.

Today, Israel is fostering relations with Nile Basin countries in the hopes of getting a share of Nile water – something that late Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat was inclined to facilitate had it not been for public outrage in Egypt.

Egypt’s water problem is not just about the Grand Renaissance Dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile.

A leading problem is the growing population in the country, which is seeing an increase of 2.7 million citizens a year, making its increase every two years equal to the full population of Denmark, and the increase every four years equal to Sweden's population.

By the end of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s first four-year term in office, the Egyptian population will have increased by 11 million people, and by over 20 million by the end of his second term should he be re-elected. 

This increase is catastrophic, and amounts to collective suicide by the entire nation. These millions cannot find enough water resources neither for drinking nor for the irrigation of crops – not to mention the shortage of services they would face.

This rapidly increasing consumption of water is only one of a number of problems Egypt has to deal with. One such problem is the pollution of the Nile with industrial and other forms of waste. 

This is happening at an alarming rate in Rashid, leading to an increase in cases of water poisoning at a time when irrigation authorities are unable to implement the traditional method of river cleansing involving the artificial thrusting of stream water into the Mediterranean.

This method is no longer affordable due to the obvious water shortage, as we need to conserve rather than thrust water into the sea.

We also have to acknowledge that the irrigation methods used by the majority of Egyptian farmers have become outdated and wasteful of water. Egypt needs to adopt new irrigation technology, not an easy task because it requires equipment and energy not available to the average farmer.

We need to adopt a plan to gradually change our irrigation methods.

The country also needs to address the excessive consumption of water by the individual. Egypt is seeing incredible waste due to poor plumbing and outdated forms water treatment. We desperately need the immediate launching of an awareness campaign.

Apart from the above-mentioned issues, we need to come to terms with the unfortunate fact that our share of Nile water is bound to drop in the coming years as Ethiopia starts to fill Renaissance Dam reservoir.

This might be a sad sign of the decline in Egypt's status in Africa, but we have face the fact that the dam will soon be finished with the support of African countries, Arab states, European countries, China and the US, all of whom have failed us in negotiating with Ethiopia the terms of filling the dam's reservoir.

Egypt's Armed Forces, although one of the most powerful armies in the region, is not in a position to intervene in this matter as some might suggest. A military approach would carry with it taxing regional and international consequences that could harm Egypt both on the political and ecological fronts.

Sudan is already increasing its reserves of water at its dams, and Ethiopia has announced plans to build more dams after it is done with the GERD to generate more electricity.

In short, we need to come to terms with the fact that our annual share of Nile water is subject to consistent decrease, and that we are already suffering a serious shortage that is prohibiting the Aswan High Dam from generating electricity beyond 10 percent of its maximum production capacity due to its declining water reserves.

Egypt is faced with an imminent threat with far-reaching consequences, and we are not doing anything about it.

Instead of adopting an efficient strategy on this urgent matter, we are overwhelmed with mega projects that have proven to be of no economic gain and that have been carried out without the necessary feasibility studies.

As Herodotus said, Egypt is the gift of the Nile, and Egyptians have been aware of the river's importance since ancient times when it was considered sacred by the Pharaohs.

Today, we are facing a very serious threat to the Nile, and we desperately need to have a committees of experts formed to address this matter.

This committee should not just be made up of officials from the Ministry of Irrigation and the office of the prime minister and the presidency. What we need is high-calibre experts to provide a rescue strategy as soon as possible.

We cannot afford to take risks with this matter. It is a matter that deserves immediate and serious attention and action.

The writer is former head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party

Short link: