Highlighting water scarcity

Nesmahar Sayed , Tuesday 31 Oct 2023

Placing the water issue at the forefront of global climate action was at the heart of discussions during Cairo Water Week 2023, reports Nesmahar Sayed



In 2022 alone, more than 110 million people on the African continent were directly affected by risks related to the climate and water, causing economic damage reaching $8.5 billion and recording 5,000 deaths, over 90 per cent of which were either related to drought or floods, Hani Sweilam, the minister of water and irrigation, said at the opening of the sixth Cairo Water Week (CWW) which kicked off this week.

Titled “Action on Water Adaptation for Sustainability”, the CWW 2023 builds on the outcomes and recommendations of last year’s CWW to draw the attention of the international community and mobilise efforts to place the water issue at the forefront of global climate action.

Sweilam explained that Egypt is one example of countries that suffer from challenges because of water scarcity and climate change. It comes at the top of a list of arid countries that have a rainfall rate that does not exceed 1.3 billion cubic metres annually, he said, adding that it depends for 98 per cent of its water needs on the Nile, which comes from outside the country’s borders.

The annual per capita share of water in Egypt amounts to half the global water poverty level of 1,000 cubic metres per capita per annum. The gap between the available water resources and the demand for water is bridged by reusing 21 billion cubic metres annually, in addition to importing more than 34 billion cubic metres of water in the form of food, Sweilam said.

Nonetheless, Egypt is making huge and continuous efforts at the national, regional, and international levels, he said. It has adopted a water policy based on the rational and sustainable use of its water resources, with increasing reliance placed on non-traditional water resources and on a food policy that balances local food production with importing it to provide food security.

The sixth CWW comes as a preparatory event for the upcoming UN COP28 Climate Conference in the UAE, and its recommendations will be presented as inputs for the water activities that will take place this month at the Conference, Sweilam added.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri stressed Egypt’s belief in the importance of cooperation in trans-boundary water basins to ensure the fulfillment of the human right to water, noting the unique state of water scarcity that Egypt suffers from.

Egypt’s almost absolute dependence on cross-border water from the River Nile, which is the first and most important source of its food security, indicates that it suffers from a water deficit amounting to 55 per cent of its needs, Shoukri said. “Egypt is continuing its policies aimed at strengthening cross-border water cooperation regionally and internationally, based on its conviction of the possibility of balancing the interests of all the parties to international river basins, if this is combined with good intentions, sincere political will, commitment to international best practices, and integrated, non-selective application,” he said.

He added that “international law and the acceptance of its provisions enable all parties to establish projects in a way that achieves equitable benefits for all and maximises and develops shared water resources. This spreads prosperity and stability instead of drifting into tensions and the sharing of poverty.”

Israel’s use of water as a weapon against the Palestinians cannot be ignored. Ahmed Abul-Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, said that “our hearts are wounded by the destruction and violence happening in the Gaza Strip. Israel seeks to push the afflicted residents of Gaza to migrate out of the Strip by bombing them and depriving them of their basic rights, which are the right to water, food, and medical treatment, among other rights.”

On the sidelines of the CCW, the Arab Water Council signed a cooperation agreement with the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources in the field of technology transfer, the exchange of experiences, geographic information systems, and remote sensing to assist in the proper management of water resources in the Arab region.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, president of the Arab Water Council, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the agreement aimed to confront the effects of climate change on the water sector in the Arab region, enhance reliance on modern technology to confront water challenges with unconventional methods, work to support and implement integrated water management policies, and reach sustainable solutions for water management.

He added that the agreement also includes establishing a comprehensive cooperation relationship in the field of promoting joint applied research, developing strategic policies to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), organising scientific dialogue and administrative and technical exchange programmes, enhancing capacity building, and supporting international conferences and cooperation plans between the two parties.

He pointed to the importance of accelerating the expansion of joint cooperation and overcoming delays that have occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and other crises.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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