The European Investment Bank (EIB) is eyeing desalination projects in Egypt, water sector expert at the EIB Walid Salem said this week.
Coastal protection in Egypt is an area in which the EIB closely collaborates with the national authorities to identify potential investments in line with Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles, Salem told Al-Ahram Weekly. These guide the use and sustainable conservation of oceans, seas, and marine resources.
The EIB currently stands as one of the largest investors in water resources worldwide, with close to 79 billion euros invested in over 1,600 projects. According to Salem, water and sanitation projects are high on the agenda when it comes to projects being implemented in Egypt, including large national programmes such as the presidential Decent Life initiative.
In collaboration with the European Union, the EIB has provided financing to Egypt worth one billion euros so far to support 23 projects, including integrated development projects for sewage treatment in Alexandria and Kafr Al-Sheikh, projects aimed at reducing pollution in Egypt’s lakes and the Mediterranean, and the Fayoum Sewage Plant.
Egypt is entering a stage of water poverty according to international rates and standards. According to the UN, the definition of water poverty determines the per capita share of 1,000 cubic metres of water per year. Today, the per capita share of water in Egypt has decreased to the equivalent of 550 or 580 cubic metres, about half the water poverty rate.
Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawi announced the figures during his participation in a symposium on water security in Africa on the sidelines of the ninth session of the African Cities Summit (Africités 2022), held from 17 to 21 May in the Kenyan city of Kisumu, according to a statement by the ministry on 19 May.
During the symposium, Shaarawi presented where Egypt stands in regard to its water situation. He said that Egypt has a robust policy for rationalising its water resources, seen in its national project for lining canals and the development of a modern irrigation system to conserve water, treat agricultural and sanitary drainage water, desalinate sea water and purify lakes.
According to Shaarawi, all ministries and state institutions are making great efforts in all the governorates to implement the directives of the political leadership and the prime minister to preserve every drop of water and get the maximum possible benefit from Egypt’s water resources.
The symposium also emphasised the River Nile as a lifeline for the Egyptian people, pointing to the importance of working for water on the African continent to be a tool of cooperation between the African countries and not one fostering disputes or tension. The water issue is affected by climate change in the countries of the African continent, the minister said, adding that all parties should take into account their water security.
The Ethiopian Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has long been a point of concern when it comes to Egypt’s water security, and Egypt has been vocal over the past decade about its concern that the GERD will reduce its share of the Nile’s water.
Egypt, along with Sudan, has been demanding Ethiopia sign a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation policies of the dam, but the upstream country has yet to do so.
However, even before the GERD, Egypt had neared the water poverty line, Haitham Al-Kott, a specialist in water-treatment technologies, told the Weekly.
He said that the expansion of desalination projects could offer security, stressing that Egypt was giving special attention to desalination projects among other efforts exerted.
Over the past week, Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat said that the government is offering low-cost financial packages to the private sector to carry out water-desalination projects and others through cooperation with financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank.
During a press conference on Sunday, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said projects of water desalination, canal lining, and irrigation modernisation were part of the state’s efforts to secure every drop of water.
He said Egypt has historical rights to the Nile water, but it does not oppose development projects in the Nile Basin countries, and some of the projects are carried out by Egyptian companies working in these countries. “Egypt sticks to its water rights, and it does not oppose development projects in the Nile Basin countries,” Madbouli said.
Environmental and water-resources expert Ahmed Abdallah said that the water-desalination and sewage-treatment projects were necessary at the present time given Egypt’s internal and external challenges.
He added that there was a golden opportunity for the private sector to attract foreign investment to these types of projects.
Last month, a government official announced that Egypt would put 19 water-desalination projects out for tender with a combined production capacity of 3.3 million cubic metres of water per day and a combined investment of about LE72 billion. This will be through public-private partnerships.
Housing Minister Assem Al-Gazzar said in 2020 that Egypt wants to invest some LE134.2 billion through 2050 to build seawater-desalination plants with a capacity of 6.4 million cubic metres per day of potable water.
Egypt last year inaugurated the world’s largest wastewater-treatment plant, the LE18 billion Bahr Al-Baqar plant. Water security remains a key priority for Egypt as threats posed by the GERD and climate change have prompted the government to put water at the forefront of its development plans.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.