The fourth edition of the Cairo Water Week (CWW) was held in the capital this week, with the participation of ministers, official delegations, senior officials in the water sector, scientists, international organisations, and leading financial institutions, as well as civil society organisations and NGOs.
The participants discussed policies appropriate to water-scarce countries for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), advances in water management, governance, and strategic planning. Wastewater reuse and water recycling for agriculture in Egypt as well as various means of financing water projects were also highlighted at the event.
In opening the week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed that this year’s CWW, entitled “Water, Population, and Global Changes: Challenges and Opportunities”, comes at a time when the world is witnessing rapid changes affecting water resources, making them one of the most pressing international challenges.
“This affects the ability of countries to meet the water needs of their people, which turns the management of water resources into a challenge that affects the security and safety of all countries,” Al-Sisi said, adding that Egypt has drawn up a strategic plan for managing its water resources until 2037 at an estimated cost of $50 billion. This figure could be doubled, the president said.
Egypt’s National Water Resources Plan (2017-2037) is based on four main pillars, including improving water quality, establishing bilateral and tertiary treatment plants, developing new water resources through seawater desalination, and rationalising the consumption of available water resources.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said during his speech at the event that access to safe, clean, and adequate water depends on effective cooperation in the field of trans-boundary water resources, in accordance with the principles of international law. Egypt strongly believes that cross-border cooperation is a prerequisite for achieving SDG 6 and human rights related to water.
Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel-Ati, said that Egypt is facing changes in its share of water from the River Nile as a result of unilateral measures on the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that have been taken without reaching a binding legal agreement.
He said that the ministry has implemented various major national projects for improving water quality, rationalising water use, developing water resources, creating an appropriate environment through the establishment of giant sewage and agricultural wastewater treatment plants, modernising irrigation systems, modernising water facilities, coastal protection, legislative developments, and institutional reforms.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) also organised a seminar on Tuesday in partnership with the Delegation of the European Union to Egypt, the French Development Agency (AFD), and the German Development Bank (KfW) that highlighted challenges and opportunities in financing water projects and cooperation between Egypt and international partners.
Christian Berger, head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt, said that Egypt-EU cooperation in the water sector stretches over a wide portfolio of programmes covering 16 governorates and that total direct EU grants had totaled nearly 550 million euros since 2007 through 20 programmes that have leveraged funds of more than three billion euros, with an estimated 20 million people benefiting from them.
“Egypt is extremely serious in addressing water challenges,” Berger said, adding that this was due to the country’s increasing water requirements as a result of a growing population, improving living standards, and the expansion of agriculture to ensure food security.
He stressed that the EU would continue to support Egypt in this and other fields and that more cooperation would take place through the Team Europe Initiative under which EU member states, development partners, and financial institutions will address water-related challenges by fostering an integrated approach combining policy dialogue, technical assistance, and grants, guarantees and loans, in order to optimise the use of donor and financial resources.
“Cross-coordination between all the parties is important when it comes to water projects,” Berger noted.
“Investment in water projects requires mobilising all possible resources to complement and support constrained public budgets,” said Flavia Palanza, director of lending operations in EU neighbouring countries at the EIB, the largest lender to the global water sector with more than 66 billion euros invested in over 1,400 projects.
In Egypt, the EIB has provided financing of one billion euros to support 13 projects in the water and wastewater sector.
“Egypt has developed a set of high-level objectives for the sector, aiming at securing access to and improving the overall quality of water, rationalising its usage through a new management system, and expanding modern irrigation systems,” Palanza said.
The desalination of seawater has been one key area where Egypt and many countries in the region have looked with a view to solving water supply problems despite its high cost. This is now lessening, according to financial institutions, thanks to technological advances.
Sayed Ismail, deputy minister for infrastructure at the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities, said that desalination is the most promising alternative to providing the potable water needs of Egypt’s coastal governorates on the Mediterranean and Red Sea.
The government has developed a Strategic Plan for Desalination to cover seawater desalination and provide for increasing drinking water needs over 30 years until 2050 with a total capacity of 6.4 million cubic metres of water per day.
Ismail said the plan aims to provide drinking water to meet current requirements and the future increase of population and to stop the transmission of surface water to governorates like Marsa Matrouh, the Red Sea, and South Sinai.
It also aims to replace the use of surface water by desalinated water in coastal governorates and to provide the drinking water needs of the new urban communities. (see p.14)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly