An Arabian Aquapocalypse and Egypt’s Nile-less Future?

Courtesy of Green Prophet, two articles that remind us of the water crises awaiting much of the Middle East.  As the first notes, some officials have recently called the Middle East water problem an apocalypse, to draw attention to the real and immediate danger shortages represent:

“…While bureaucrats push paper in their plush offices, the citizens they represent face what one senior researcher calls a water apocalypse. Yemen’s aquifers could dry up as early as 2012, thereby exacerbating the security problems there, and the United Arab Emirates would already be a wasteland if it weren’t for the many desalination plants that keep it afloat.

And yet government allows for investors to pad their pockets with profligate building schemes that will usurp even more water resources, essentially robbing the poorer population of their share. At last week’s Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) in Beirut, 500 delegates from 52 countries sounded a collective call to establish better regulation, better efficiency, and to embrace technology that can deliver more freshwater resources.

Unfortunately, many of the issues sited as cause for the Middle East’s water problems (apart from the fact that water has never been the ME’s trump card) are the same indicators that real change will happen quickly enough to avert disaster.

In Depth News sites political and management shortcomings, fragmented water institutes, insufficient water legal systems, constrained public water budgets, and water policies that are not informed by science as contributing factors.

Dr. Farouk El-Baz, an Egyptian-American scientist who worked with a NASA exploration of the moon, recommended that satellite images may reveal further groundwater resources that would help to alleviate what everyone agrees is a “critical” situation that “demands immediate attention.”

How critical is critical? According to IDN, by 2015 some countries’ per capita freshwater resource will dip below 500 cubic meters, and as low as 100 cubic in some places. The international average is 6500 cubic meters and anything below 500 is considered dangerously low.

Let’s put that in perspective: 100 cubic meters is equivalent to approximately 72 gallons a day per person. Flushing a toilet requires approximately three gallons and a ten minute shower could use up to 42 gallons. On average, people use one gallon to wash their hands and brush their teeth, five gallons to wash a sink full of dishes, and ten to hand-wash a load of clothing.

If in one day a person takes one shower, flushes a toilet three times and washes their hands afterward, and if they brush their teeth twice, wash two loads of dishes and one of clothing, then they will already have used up their daily quota. That doesn’t take into account the amount of water required for drinking, or for industrial agriculture and energy production, which in America amounts to 1,430 gallons per person per day.

To say that 100 cubic meters of water is insufficient to sustain life would be a gross understatement. But how do we prevent our populace from having to endure such hydrological poverty? Some of the solutions proposed at AFED include making existing water systems more efficient, improving agriculture (“more crop per drop”) and embracing better technology such as desalination. But since government is notoriously slow to unfold, a grassroots initiative would also go a long way to reducing the water burden.

Take shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing teeth, use water efficient appliances, don’t even think about having a lawn or swimming pool – which are both heinously water intensive. Wash your cars less or consider using waterless car washes such as this one in Dubai. And then, treat the water resources we do have, (including rivers, etc.) as though they were your last drop.”

And the second notes that Egyptians, facing more of a Nile-less future, have already begun to protest water shortages:

Hotter summers, intense irrigation and threats of losing their Nile, Egyptians are under quota for water compared to other Arab nations. They take to the streets.

Looking at Google Earth (above) truly shows how Egypt is a fertile crescent of the region. But in the face of losing water from the Nile, tens of thousands of people in Egypt – Africa’s second most populous country – have taken to the streets in recent months to protest against water shortages. This goes some way to explaining the government’s reluctance to relinquish its current share of River Nile water.

On 26 July, 600 people from the southern governorate of Minya staged a sit-down protest outside the Irrigation Ministry in Cairo to protest about the lack of water for their land. While there have been water shortage protests in previous years, the size and frequency of protests in 2010 has been unprecedented, local observers say. “Water scarcity will be even worse in the future,” Riad Aldamk, head of a water studies project at Cairo College of Engineering, told IRIN, the United Nation’s environment news source.

He said Egypt’s total water consumption had increased by 17 percent in the last five years, according to studies conducted by the college. Hotter summers were partly to blame.

A recent report by the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) said annual water resources would decline by 15.2 billion cubic metres by 2017 – from a required 86.2 billion cubic metres to a projected 71.4 billion cubic metres. The report said Egypt, where average per capita consumption was 700 cubic metres of water a year – was one of 15 Arab countries under the global water scarcity mark of 1,000 cubic metres per capita. The global average is 6,750 cubic metres per person annually.

Experts say agriculture is responsible for 70 percent of consumption and blame traditional irrigation methods for the loss of 8-17 billion cubic metres of water a year. Rice farms use much of our water, said Khalid Alqady, a professor of agriculture at Helwan University. “To grow rice, you need huge amounts of water.”

In response, the Agriculture Ministry is reducing the amount of land used to grow rice from 486,000 hectares in 2009 to 456,720 hectares this year. Alqady also blamed a proliferation of fish farms for water scarcity.

Egypt’s top 10 water-scarce areas:

This summer is a particularly hot one, aggravating the shortages. Based on interviews with several local water experts, IRIN highlights 10 areas particularly badly affected by water shortages.

Ismailia city – Water scarcity in this coastal northeastern city of some 750,000 has led to large-scale protests in recent weeks by farmers who say they can no longer irrigate their farms. The farmers urged the governor to help and invited TV cameras to record their predicament. They said drought had caused a shortage of irrigation water and that this had already made 57,803 hectares of farmland uncultivatable.

Dakahlia Governorate – Protests by farmers about scarce irrigation have become common in this agricultural area northeast of Cairo. Farmers, who regularly stage protests outside the office of the governor, say 10,789 hectares of farmland was no longer viable because it had received no irrigation for more than 24 days.

Kafr al-Sheikh Governorate – Farmers in al-Tarzy village, about 180km north of Cairo, said three weeks ago that irrigation water had stopped reaching their farms for 10 days. They have been holding protests, saying the lack of water was causing their crops to die but the government was doing nothing.

Sharqia Governorate – Insufficient irrigation has ruined hundreds of hectares of farmland, particularly in the northern part of this city 80km northeast of Cairo. Over the past month, water scarcity has forced rice farmers to use sewage water to irrigate their dying crops.

Fayoum city – Water scarcity has caused widespread anger in this city, 130km southwest of Cairo. This has led to protests in areas around the city by farmers, who say influential landowners with political connections receive whatever water is available, while the poor are left with nothing.

Damietta city – Scarce water has taken its toll on farmland in this northeastern coastal city and on the health of residents, who have been affected by water contaminated with sewage.

Marsa Matrouh city – A canal bringing water from the Nile to this northwestern coastal town recently dried up, causing drought and hardship for residents.

Minya Governorate – Rising temperatures have increased demand for water in this southern governorate. They have no piped water because of shortages.

Beni Suef city – Farmers in this city about 115km south of Cairo took to the streets two weeks ago because of a lack of irrigation water. They said 1,660 hectares of farmland had been rendered unusable.

Alexandria Governorate – Thousands of hectares of farmland in Nubaria village, south of Alexandria city, are set to dry up because the local authorities have been forced to heavily restrict irrigation.

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 14th, 2010 at 5:40 pm and is filed under Egypt, Nile.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

© 2024 Water Politics LLC .  'Water Politics', 'Water. Politics. Life', and 'Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty World' are service marks of Water Politics LLC.