Egypt searches for solutions to the water shortage crisis

The most pessimistic Egyptians did not imagine that the day would come when they would plan to drink seawater or treated wastewater. For a long time, the Egyptians boasted of having the longest waterway globally; the country that the world knew for the Nile and knew the Nile with it. However, the talk of the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel-Aty, about the extent of his country’s water resources deficit came as a shock to a large segment of Egyptians. Activists questioned the country’s fate and water security in the coming years.

The minister, who spoke in a meeting with several conservative representatives and members of parliament, said that the total water needs in Egypt are estimated at 114 billion cubic metres annually. In contrast, the water resources are estimated at 60 billion cubic metres annually. This number brings the water resource deficit to 56 billion cubic metres annually, amid fears about Egypt’s ability to solve the expected water shortage crisis resulting from the Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia is building.

These figures indicate that Egypt is already suffering from severe water poverty, equivalent to 500 cubic metres per capita. These numbers coincide with expectations of an increase in Egypt’s population by about 75 million people in 2050, which represents tremendous pressure on water resources.

Abdel-Aty said that most of Egypt’s resources come from the waters of the Nile River, in addition to minimal amounts of rainwater and the deep groundwater in the deserts. He pointed out that compensating this gap is through reusing agricultural drainage water and surface groundwater in the valley and delta and importing food products from abroad, corresponding to 34 billion cubic metres of water annually.

On Egypt’s vision to address this shortage, the minister said that the state had prepared a strategy for water resources until 2050, at the cost of up to EGP 900 billion, and a national plan for water resources until 2037 that relies on four axes. These axes represent rationalising water use, improving its quality, providing additional water sources, and creating the climate for optimal water management.

In practice, we can explain this strategy in three points:

1- Desalination of saline water: It is a process that requires a long search and a lot of money, as this process costs Saudi Arabia $1.5 per cubic metre. The Egyptian citizen cannot afford this cost. The United States was able to develop new technology for the desalination process this year that costs $1 per cubic metre, which means that Egypt needs $55 billion to compensate for $55 billion cubic metres, and this is beyond Egypt’s capabilities at any time, as he put it.
2- Wastewater purification: It costs much more than that, about $4.5 per cubic metre, so this solution is out of Egypt’s economic capacity as well.
3- Canal lining: It aims to prevent the intrusion of canal water into the groundwater, which is the primary source for agriculture in Egypt. It is a process involving environmental pollution with a high cost.

Regarding these solutions, Mahmoud Wahba, a former professor of economics at New York University, says that the three keys do not work from an economic point of view. He added: “The measures to rationalise water consumption promoted by the Egyptian state are “required and important,” but they do not mean increasing Egypt’s share of water, and it is better to search for solutions to increase that share.

Unfortunately, according to observers, the government’s tendency to talk about alternatives, such as desalination plants and using sewage water, is received by the Egyptian citizen as a sign of the regime’s satisfaction with the fait accompli and the passing of the second filling of the GERD. This view is reinforced by the fact that the Egyptian regime stopped at a specific line while time is very short. Fears are multiplying that the second filling of the GERD will be completed, after which it will be impossible to start a military strike. The Egyptians will then be more careful to keep the GERD safe to avoid certain catastrophic damage if it falls.