Egypt seeks to take advantage of Nile River floods

After Sudan was exposed to a violent flood that killed hundreds of citizens, the Egyptian government announced a preparedness plan to deal with floods and torrents. Egypt is also trying to take advantage of the abundance of flood water to meet its water needs.

al-monitor A worker with the Sudanese Antiquities Authority lines a stone wall with sandbags to mitigate flood water damage to a structure in the ancient royal city at the archaeological site of Meroe, in the River Nile state's al-Bajrawia area, 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of the capital Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 9, 2020.  Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images.

Oct 2, 2020

The floods that hit Sudan in July killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of homes. It came as a warning for the Egyptian government to take seriously the potential danger of floods.

On Sept. 15, Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly tasked the government with developing an emergency plan to cope with the floods and the rise in water levels in the Greater Upper Nile region in Sudan, and to prepare maps of the most vulnerable areas across all governorates.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Irrigation Muhammad al-Sibai said in a statement Sept. 23, “The Nile flooding has indeed reached Egypt on Aug. 1 and is expected to continue until next October and possibly November.”

Sibai said that 13 governorates through which the Nile passes have been warned, stressing that “some crops have been dumped in the alluvium areas,” as a result of the floods.

The Nile alluvium areas are muddy lands and buildings that were built on the banks of the Nile, and they are under threat of drowning as a result of the exceptional high water level.

On Sept. 24, the Ministry of Irrigation announced on its Facebook page, “The initial indicators show that the flooding is still likely to be high and that the water flow in August and September is likely to be far stronger than that of last year, but it is still too early to make a final judgment on the type and size of the flood this year before September and October.”

Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Aty called for continued work on the removal of all infringements on the waterways, namely the Nile course and the Damietta and Rosetta branches that limit the network’s ability to absorb the excess water in cases of emergency or floods.

He noted, “The supreme committee tasked with following up on the river flow is holding an ongoing session to take the necessary measures to deal with the floods this year.”

The head of the Flood Prediction Center at the Ministry of Irrigation, Iman Sayed, said Sept. 21 that maps were prepared for the areas that will witness a rise in the water level in the Nile River.

She noted, “Owners of fish farms and farmers in these areas have been warned, and warnings and dangers will continue until the end of October.”

Despite the government’s preparations to avoid the risk of floods, the Nile flood affected several villages in the Beheira governorate, as the water level rose greatly and flooded tens of acres. The Beheira governorate issued a warning to residents of cities located on the banks of the Nile River to quickly evacuate in anticipation of the floods.

Currently, Egypt is preparing for the flood season, especially with winter approaching. The Red Sea governorate announced the establishment of five dams and a lake in Safaga to protect residents against floods.

The Red Sea governorate witnessed violent floods in 2016 that killed dozens of people.

Also, some cities in the south Sinai governorate witnessed floods over the past days, such as Saint Catherine that was hit by torrents twice between Sept. 2 and Sept. 7, as heavy rains fell on Mount Catherine and Jabal Abbas.

Works to mitigate the flood risks are currently in their second phase. The south Sinai governorate announced the establishment of a project to protect and benefit from flood water, expected to be completed by 2022, with a total value of 1.6 billion Egyptian pounds ($101 million). From 2014 to 2019, 23 dams were built, including 11 in Nuweiba city; 229 lakes, including 218 in Saint Catherine; three reservoirs in Saint Catherine; three barrages, including one in Nuweiba and two in Taba; and five canals in Taba. Governor of south Sinai Khaled Fouda announced that the total value of the current preventive works reached 927.5 million pounds ($58.8 million).

Sibai told Al-Monitor, “The flood season started Aug. 1 and will continue for three months. Buildings and crops on the alluvium lands are at risk the most.”

He said, “The government has taken all precautionary measures to deal with the floods to preserve lives and property and take advantage of the abundance of water resulting from the flood. There are 13 governorates adjacent to the Nile River that may be affected by high water levels, and there was coordination with those governorates to follow up on the situation there.”

Sibai added, "The flood of the Nile bodes well for Egypt given that there is a plan to benefit from it. The Egyptian government and the Ministry of Irrigation are following with great interest the governorates’ preparations to protect citizens.”

Adviser to the former irrigation minister Diaa al-Din al-Qousi told Al-Monitor, “The government is trying to take advantage of the high water levels resulting from the rain while protecting citizens and warning them in advance.”

Qousi ruled out a replica of the Sudan floods scenario in Egypt, saying, “There is no risk of floods due to the presence of the High Dam, which stores water in the river bed in the event of additional quantities of water.”

The head of the General Authority of the High Dam affiliated with the Ministry of Irrigation, Hussein Jalal, said in a press statement Sept. 22, “The High Dam is able to deal with the flood, and the authority announced the highest state of emergency in accordance with the directives of the minister of irrigation who inspected the preparations and the system with which we deal with the flood, deemed as the fiercest.”

On Sept. 19, Abdel-Aty inspected the systems of the High Dam, El-Qantara Lakes and Toshka Lakes Canal in order to determine their readiness for the floods.

Qousi added, “There are several governorates, including the Red Sea governorate, that frequently witness floods, so the government is continuously keen on building dams in these governorates.”

He concluded, “The torrents that hit some governorates such as south Sinai and the Red Sea will benefit citizens — if protected from the ensuing dangers. Many dams and lakes could be built. Those governorates will benefit from an abundance of fresh water at a time when they suffer from a shortage in this regard and heavily depend on groundwater.”

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