There are countries that do not have rivers, and they manage their water needs in many and expensive ways; But the matter for Egypt is different. The Nile River has been its lifeline since ancient times, and it is betting on its survival, and a barrier will not prevent its flow. This is a stable Egyptian base for hundreds of years; But it seems that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project is pushing for a change in that rule.
The Egyptians have always echoed the saying of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus that Egypt is “the gift of the Nile”, given their country’s dependence on this giant river to provide about 97% of its people’s drinking water and irrigation needs. The Eternal River” as it is called by the people of the Nile Basin countries.
A few days ago, Sisi reviewed with the government the “strategic plan of the state in the field of seawater desalination plants”, and called for the integration of the desalination strategy with the state’s general policy for rational water management, in addition to making maximum use of the water generated by all the various water plants, whether for treatment or desalination.
The search for alternatives has jumped to the top of the Egyptian government’s priorities, and officials have been declaring that Egypt is among the countries that suffer from water poverty, due to the population increase, with the state’s share of water resources fixed, according to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly last April.
In the same month, the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel-Aty, acknowledged that Egypt is one of the most water-poor countries in the world, which requires taking many measures and policies aimed at rationalizing water use and maximizing the return from the water unit.
The share of the Egyptian citizen’s share of water has decreased to 600 cubic meters annually, while the water poverty limit is 1,000 cubic meters per year, according to Madbouly’s statements, and if it drops below 500 cubic meters, the Egyptian citizen will enter the extreme water poverty limit.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had hinted years ago to the existence of a potential crisis, and said during the opening of some projects in early 2018, that Egypt was carrying out the largest sewage treatment project in its history in order to solve a “potential” issue, indicating that he would not allow the presence of Water problem in Egypt.
Al-Sisi stressed that water treatment is a triple treatment, so as not to have any negative effects on the health of the Egyptian citizen, which means that the treatment of wastewater is to provide drinking water, not just for irrigation.
50 billion dollars..not enough
During the Water Week conference in the Lebanese capital (Beirut) in April 2019, the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Aty announced the “National Water Plan” in Egypt at a cost of 50 billion dollars, in order to confront the water shortage in the country, and it will continue until 2037.
Water infrastructure requires investments estimated at $45 billion more than investments in basic projects currently, according to a 2018 report issued by the World Bank on infrastructure in Egypt.
The Egyptian government says that it is working to confront the water shortage through several paths, including desalination, as it announced in August 2019 its intention to build 39 desalination plants with a capacity of 1.4 million cubic meters per day, at an estimated cost of EGP 29.3 billion, to reach the total desalination capacity in Egypt. To more than one million cubic meters per day only (one dollar equals 15.75 pounds).
In addition to the inauguration of 52 sewage treatment plants in Upper Egypt, capable of providing 418 million cubic meters annually, sufficient for 8 million people, at a total cost of 8.1 billion pounds, according to previous statements by Housing Minister Assem El-Gazzar.
There is no alternative to the Nile
But such solutions cannot be considered a substitute for the Nile, according to the economist and academic, Mahmoud Wahba, and come within the framework of a visit to water resources and nothing more.
Speaking to Al Jazeera Net, confirmed the former professor of economics at New York University that there are no economic alternatives to compensate for any potential shortage in the Nile River after storing the water behind the Ethiopian dam and completing its construction, no matter how the Egyptian media promoted this.
In a country whose population exceeds 100 million, and this number is expected to increase annually, Wehbe believes that providing water in these ways requires capital that exceeds the capacity of the Egyptian economy, which is already suffering from debt.
In a previous interview on Al Jazeera Mubasher a few days ago, Wahba confirmed that Egypt is already suffering from water poverty, explaining that the state offers 3 solutions in this context; But it is not economically viable.
ambitious government plans
But the Egyptian government’s ambitious plans do not stop at these two tracks, desalination and treatment. There are many measures that it has taken in this regard, including, according to the Minister of Irrigation, projects to protect against the dangers of floods, studying the use of new varieties of crops that consume less water, and rational management. groundwater to ensure its sustainability.
The Egyptian Minister of Irrigation said in televised statements that Egypt had prepared for all scenarios five years ago, and the Egyptian government has reduced the areas for planting rice, bananas and sugar cane, which are the most profitable crops for the farmer.
The government also resorted to lining canals and trying to impose a modern irrigation system instead of the old traditional methods, and the issuance of the Water Resources and Irrigation Law, which costs the Egyptian farmer additional fees and new financial burdens.
The Egyptian parliamentarian, Ayman Mohsab, defended these measures and said in previous press statements that the canals lining project aims to provide more than 5 billion cubic meters of water.
The Egyptian government aims to complete the national project to line the canals, with lengths of up to 7,000 kilometers, and at a total cost of about 17.5 billion pounds by mid-2022.
In this context, the water and dams expert, Mohamed Hafez, downplays the efficacy of these government policies to counter the effects of the shortage of Nile water, explaining that such policies are too late, and cannot be considered a real alternative to the Nile, and there are no plans or projects capable of providing for the shortage. The large amount of water, which will be caused by the Ethiopian dam.
Speaking to Al Jazeera Net, Hafez indicated that the issue of lining canals, for example, will not provide more than one billion or one and a half billion cubic meters annually, and not as the government promotes; Because the majority of canals in Egypt have muddy sides and the rate of water loss is relatively low.
He warned that such measures will be paid for by the simple farmer, who pays unjustified taxes, in addition to the high prices of seeds and fertilizer, pointing out that very soon the irrigation rations will be reduced, with the aim of reducing the quantities of irrigation water to meet the challenges of the consequences of the Renaissance Dam.
Throwing ashes in the eyes
In turn, the academic and agricultural expert, Abdel Tawab Barakat, described the Egyptian government’s measures and its new water policy as “scattering dust in the eyes”, and useless, and all the projects it announces in this regard; Such as seawater desalination, wastewater treatment, control of crops, and lining of canals is like escaping forward, he said.
Barakat considered that there are decisions that harm the farmer and the agricultural profession in Egypt, and threaten the food security of millions of Egyptian families, who depend on agriculture, such as reducing the areas of rice cultivation, the strategic crop for Egyptians, imposing fines on violating farmers, and maintaining the article related to the imprisonment of violators.
New laws and procedures
Last April, Sisi stressed the importance of developing the irrigation water management system based on modern and smart means, and adopting the latest agricultural irrigation techniques in the world, by producing advanced sensors to measure the level of moisture in the soil with high accuracy.
During a meeting with the government, he demanded that these devices be made available at reasonable prices and quantities to be accessible to farmers; This means that farmers will be burdened with this new technology, in coordination between the Arab Organization for Industrialization and the ministries of irrigation, agriculture and military production.
At the end of last March, the Egyptian Parliament approved the controversial Water Resources and Irrigation Law, which was described by the head of the Farmers Syndicate at the time, Hussein Abu Saddam, as outwardly compassion and torment, and was not presented for societal discussion, as it included negative penalties for freedoms and the imposition of large fees and fines for violation. What the authority decides on the systems for using water for irrigation and agriculture