Climate change, a fast growing population, ill-designed infrastructure, high levels of pollution and lack of law enforcement have made Egypt a country thirsty for water — both in terms of quantity and quality.
The River Nile, which is considered poor by many experts and hydrologists, lies at lower altitude than the rest of the country. Massive electric pumps extract the water from the river’s bed and canals and direct it to industry, agriculture and for individual water use.
A significant portion of the water contained in Lake Nasser’s 5,000 square kilometer basin is lost to evaporation, while old networks of leaking pipes also deprive the country of satisfactory access to its most important resource: water.
In order to debate water scarcity in Egypt, its causes, and how climate change makes the issue more pressing than ever, as well as looking to solutions, a panel of experts were invited to participate in the 13th Cairo Climate Talk last week entitled “Growing Thirst: Sustainable Water Solutions for Egypt.”
Tarek Kotb, the First Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, and a member of the panel discussion, talked about the dwindling water share per capita with a sense of urgency. “Every year, the Egyptian population grows by 1.8 million, while the annual quota of Nile water allocated to Egypt, 55 billion cubic meters, has remained unchanged since the 1959 Nile Water Agreement,” he says.
While Egyptians in the 1960s could enjoy a water share per capita of 2800 cubic meters for all purposes, the current share has dropped to 660 cubic meters today—below the international standard defining water poverty of 1000 cubic meters.
Kotb estimates that Egypt is gradually going to leave the stage of water scarcity and enter a phase of drastic water stress in the next 40 years, if no sustainable water management is put in place.
“By 2050, there will be about 160 million Egyptians and only 370 cubic meters of water per capita,” he says. While Egypt has other options for its water needs, such as tapping into groundwater basins and desalinating sea-water, the bulk of water is still extracted from the Nile, leading to longstanding tensions with the other Nile basin countries. (Louise Sarant/Egypt independent)