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Environmental Justice | On World Water Day: Stand Up to the Water and Energy Crisis and the Pollution of Drinking Water

Stand Up to the Crisis Water and Energy

Stand Up to the Assault on the Nile and Pollution of Drinking Water

On 22 March of each year, the United Nations and countries around the world commemorate World Water Day, launched in 1993 to remind the world of water scarcity and lack of justice in water distribution. Currently, there are 1.3 billion people around the world with no electricity. Another 768 million do not have access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion are without access to improved sanitation. Of the 178 states around the world, 30 countries are situated under the water poverty line, including 15 Arab countries. This means that the average person receives less than 1000 cubic meters of renewable water per year. This year, the United Nations chose the theme of “Water and Energy” to celebrate World Water Day.

Water and energy are closely linked. The generation and transmission of energy requires the utilization of water resources, especially for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources. Conversely, about 8% of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers.

In 2014, the UN will be paying attention to the water-energy nexus, particularly to address inequities for the “poorest one billion” who live slums and impoverished rural areas and survive without access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient food, or energy services.

The UN also aims, this year, to facilitate the development of policies and crosscutting frameworks that bridge ministries and sectors, leading the way to energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy. Particular attention will be paid to identifying best practices that can make a water- and energy-efficient ‘Green Industry’ a reality.

Egypt’s Water Resources

Water Poverty, Waste of Available Resources, and Crisis in the Nile Basin

For several months, Egypt has been enduring the repercussions of the construction of Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the Congo River project and their impact on Egypt’s share of water. However, Egypt became a water poor country years ago. The average per capita share of water dropped below 860 m3 annually and is expected to reach 582 m3 by 2025.

Available water resources in Egypt account to around 64 billion m3, 55.5 billion m3 of which are provided by the Nile. Egypt’s water needs are expected to reach 86.2 billion m3 by 2017 (Report by the Egyptian cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center, Did Egypt Enter an Era of Water Poverty?, IDSC, June 2009).

Agriculture accounts for 83.3% of water use in Egypt, compared to 11.8% for households, 1.7% for industry, and 2.9% being wasted or evaporating.

While the UN made the link between water and energy this year, the slogan had been the title of one of the major crises witnessed by Egypt, whether in the drop in per capita share of water and the poor water distribution network, on one hand, or the problems facing energy, electrical energy in particular, and their impact on various aspects of life in the country, on the other.

For years, Egyptian policies had neglected relations with other African countries on the Nile Basin, until Ethiopia began to develop the Renaissance Dam. The Egyptian government failed to take any measures to develop agriculture or reduce the volume of water used in flood irrigation in the country, which consumes more than 60 billion m3 of water annually.

The Ongoing Assault on the Nile and the Pollution of Drinking Water

The problem is not limited to the drop in Egypt’s share of water, however. It extends to the ongoing assault on the Nile River and the high rates of pollution, which reached unprecedented levels and are beginning to impact the quality of produced water, on one hand, and the achievement of sustainable development, on the other.

A study conducted by IDSC on the poorest villages showed that 60% of households are affected by the taste, color, and odor of drinking water that reaches them. For the past months and the beginning of the winter blockage, al-Beheira and Kafr el-Sheikh governorates witnessed several social protests against water pollution and the death of fish in the river.

A recent study by the Ministry of Water Resources revealed that 75% of sewage is pumped into the Nile, while the volume of industrial waste dumped in the River and waterways is estimated at 550 million m3. This happens through 22 drainages on the Nile, 12 on agricultural canals, and 68 on waste outlets.

In addition, 1200 private sector industrial facilities, 1182 belonging to the former business sector, 1100 plants belonging to the local development ministry, and 212 factories run by several ministries are responsible for the pollution of water surfaces. They include 700 factories in 17 governorates dumping their waste directly into the Nile.

The study also showed that 73% of factories do not treat liquid waste and 14% only carry out partial treatment. This is added to 6.5 million m3 of polluted water from electrical plants and more than 300 floating boats directly dumping their waste in the Nile.

This a real disaster, requiring conclusive action, a clear strategy, and sufficient funding to confront the problem.

As we celebrate World Water Day 2014, we would like to take part in the development of solutions to water and energy problems to provide the components of sustainable development. This would be through:

Reinforcing cooperation with Nile Basin countries, through the Nile Basin Initiative, and supporting joint projects, to ensure water supply to upstream countries without affecting Egypt’s share of the water.
Developing agricultural and irrigation methods to maintain Egypt’s water share, without impacting food security.
Implementation of projects to take advantage of rainwater and floods in agriculture.
Separation of industrial waste from the sewage network and providing water treatment plants for waste before being discharged from the factories.
Increasing penalties on the pollution of Nile water and on fish farms that contaminate the river bed.
Rejecting the transformation of water into a commodity and maintaining it as a public resource available to all.

Preservation of water resources and rationalizing its use should be our aim, where the efforts of the government, research centers, political parties, and civil society organizations are integrated, so that World Water Day sounds the alarm for all.

Signatory Organizations:

  • Association of Health and Environmental Development
  • Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights

For More Information on the Issue Of Water Pollution, Read ECESR Paper: Water Pollution in Egypt