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Cairo calls on Egyptian expats for water advice

The Egyptian government hosted a conference in Luxor and invited Egyptian experts living abroad to take part in helping address issues related to the country's water insecurity.
A fisherman steers his boat on the river Nile in Luxor city, south of Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - GF20000078031

Under the auspices of the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs, the Luxor governorate hosted the conference “Egypt can … by sons of the Nile” Feb. 26-27. The participants, who gathered to discuss solutions to Egypt's water shortage, included 21 Egyptian scientists living abroad who have experience in water resource management and agriculture. Also in attendance were Luxor Gov. Mohammed Badr and Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Ati along with six other ministers — of immigration and Egyptian expatriates; military production; petroleum and mineral resources; higher education and scientific research; environmental affairs; and agriculture and land reclamation — reflecting the government's deep interest in the issue.

The conference focused on mechanisms for maximizing Egypt’s access to available water resources, achieving water security, and exploiting water treatment and desalination technologies and economics. It also examined the use of space technology applications for addressing water and agriculture issues.

Abdel Ati, in his speech to those in attendance, remarked, “There are major challenges related to the problem of water shortage in Egypt, especially considering that 97% of the country’s water resources originate outside the borders. Add to this that climate change is leading to rising temperatures, which, along with population growth, lead to increased water consumption.” He added, “The ministry believes in the need to achieve water security and address water poverty risks by adopting all kinds of possible solutions, the water problem being of utmost importance to Egyptians.”

Chief among the recommendations proposed at the closing session were encouraging the media to spread water awareness among the population, expanding the use of unconventional water resources, for example, desalinated seawater and treated wastewater, and supporting water-related projects and technologies. Noor Ahmed Abdel Moneim, an expert on strategic water management, backed the proposals.

“The recommendations are good, especially those related to developing water awareness among citizens,” Abdel Moneim told Al-Monitor. “It is also necessary to develop the water desalination mechanisms currently in place, increase the use of groundwater and ration water use in water-consuming agriculture, such as rice and sugarcane.”

He further stated, “Egypt suffers from water poverty. Its share of the Nile water has been 55.5 billion cubic meters since 1959, back when the population stood at 25 million. This means that the average per capita share was about 2,000 cubic meters per year compared to less than 600 cubic meters per year now, with the difference being driven by significant population growth. As the world average per capita share stands at 1,000 cubic meters, this means that Egypt is below the water poverty line.”

Abdel Moneim assessed, “Egypt's current water consumption is 76.5 billion cubic meters per year, which means that there is a deficit of about 21 billion cubic meters of water that Egypt is trying to compensate for either by reusing agricultural, health and industrial drainage water or by expanding the use of underground water.”

Asked about the various dimensions of Egypt's water problem, Abdel Moneim said, “The problem results from a severe shortage of water, which could degenerate into a severe crisis by 2050. Add to this the differences with some Nile Basin countries carrying out projects that could affect Egypt’s share of the Nile water, such as the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.”

Egypt entered into negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan in May 2011 on the Renaissance Dam, but talks were halted at the request of Ethiopia on Feb. 18, following political unrest in that country. The talks had been plagued by a failure to overcome differences on a number of technical issues.

Abbas Sharaki, a professor of Water Resources at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “The dam will certainly affect Egypt’s share of Nile water. Therefore, the Egyptian government has to take a more firm stance so as to avoid having the problem degenerate to even worse.”

As for the gathering in Luxor, Sharaki said, “The conference is definitely a positive event, and I closely followed the details, but most of its recommendations had been proposed years ago. These recommendations need to be implemented in a timely manner. Also, water quantity should be increased and its quality improved.”

Sharaki added, “The state’s interest in such conferences reflects the government’s great awareness of the water problem and the importance of implementing practical and scientific solutions, but citizens remain an integral part of the water problem, as they need to make every possible effort to change the existing culture and develop an awareness of the importance of rationing water.”

It appears that Egypt's water problem is a security issue worsening by the day amid increasing foreign and domestic challenges. The situation requires the urgent implementation of the solutions put forth by specialists, ministries and relevant government agencies.

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