Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Quality in Egypt

Egypt- Nile delta - Water Quality in Egypt
Photo 1: Egyptian's on boat filling plastic barrels with water beside the dead donkey at the Nile Delta town of Al-Borollos, 300 kms north of Cairo in March 16, 2008. (Source: Nasser Nouri, Flickr)

Surface water quality

In general, surface water quality deteriorates as one moves downstream, with the worst pollution occurring at the Northern Lakes. Domestic water demands result in about 3.8 BCM/yr of wastewater being discharged into the Nile, of which 35% is treated. Industrial effluents contribute to about 1.3 BCM/yr of untreated wastewater being discharged to surface waters.[1]

The quality of Nile water is a matter of serious concern, since the Nile is the main source of water for the expansion of industrial, agricultural and recreational activities.

Groundwater quality

Groundwater quality in the Nile system is reasonable. However, pollution has affected some shallow groundwater bodies. Almost 20% of groundwater in the Nile aquifer does not meet drinking water standards, especially at the fringes where there is little or no protective clay cap. Groundwater in the Nile Delta is generally of better quality than in the Nile Valley. In the Western Desert, groundwater quality is generally very good; in the Eastern Desert and Sinai, it is highly saline. The carbonate aquifer is generally brackish but has some fresh water in recharge areas.[2]

Sanitation and Wastewater Treatment Network

Although Egypt comes second in the Arab region for volume of wastewater directly reused, this represents only 10% of the wastewater produced.[3] In terms of sanitation and wastewater treatment, Egypt recently brought stakeholders under the management of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation Facilities to better coordinate, plan, budget and finance new projects and operation and maintenance activities.

Most of the water resulting from domestic, municipal and industrial use is discharged into the water system as wastewater. Of the total wastewater discharged – about 9 million cubic metres per day (MCM/d) – only 50% is treated, while about 80% of the industrial water intake is discharged back into the water system as (polluted) return flow.[4]

Environmental and Health Risks

Egypt shares most of the environmental and health risks of developing countries. One of the most important is the lack of efficient sanitation services coupled with water pollution caused by the deterioration of old water networks. In addition, various problems in the construction, design and maintenance of sewage systems result in a prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases.[5]

Besides domestic wastewater, agriculture (notably chemical fertilizers) and industry are a major source of water pollution. The total amount of domestic wastewater has been estimated at 4.3 BCM/yr in 1997, which discharge directly into waterways, often untreated or insufficiently treated. Many small industries also discharge untreated wastewater into the public sewer system.[6]

[1] MWRI, 2005. ‘Integrated Water Resources Management Plan.’ Available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/8320/341800EGY0whit11public10Action0Plan.pdf, accessed [10-11-2018].

[2] MWRI, 2013. ‘Proposed Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Ministry of Water Resources & Irrigation Egypt.’ Available at www.eeaa.gov.eg/portals/0/eeaaReports/CCRMP/7.%20CC%20Water%20Strategy/CC%20Final%20Submitted%208-March%202013%20AdptStrtgy.pdf, accessed [10-11-2018].

[3] Arab Water Council, 2012. ‘The Second Arab State of the Water Report.’ Available at www.arabwatercouncil.org/images/Publications/Arab_state/2nd_Arab_State_of_the_Water_Report.pdf, accessed [10-11-2018].

[4] MWRI, 2005. ‘National Water Resources Plan for Egypt 2017.’ Available at http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/egy147082.pdf, accessed [10-11-2018].

[5] Anwar, W. A., 2003. ‘Environmental health in Egypt.’ Available at www.researchgate.net/publication/10569247_Environmental_health_in_Egypt, accessed [10-11-2018].

[6] MWRI, 2005. ‘National Water Resources Plan for Egypt 2017.’ Available at http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/egy147082.pdf, accessed [10-11-2018].