Water of the Middle East and North Africa

What Does the Future Hold for water in Egypt ?

Naser Lake - water in Egypt
Photo 1: Naser Lake, Aswan, Egypt. (Source: Mohamed Atef, Flickr)

Risk Factors and Problem Areas

Water resources in Egypt are vulnerable to three main risk factors:

1) High pollution and increasing water costs as a result of pumping water over and over again and without treatment.

2) Climate change impacts on the Nile Basin: Potential for a significant reduction in water supplies due to the negative impacts of climate change on the precipitation and temperature in the Nile Basin.[1]

3) Low sanitation coverage in rural Egypt: About 57% of the population lives in rural areas, yet less than 30% of the population has access to improved sanitation, posing a risk to public health and groundwater resources.

Given the status of and challenges facing Egypt’s water resources, researchers have predicted scenarios for the country’s future water status. The first scenario assumes the continuity of current water practices without major changes; the second scenario assumes a relative development of water policies; and the third scenario is ambitious and reflects a radical development in water management practices. The three scenarios show that unless urgent steps are taken to address the challenges of water resources management in Egypt, it will be difficult to sustain the country’s development.[2]

Outline of Long-Term Strategy

In 2017, the MRWI updated its 2037 water management plan. With projected investments estimated at 900 billion Egyptian pounds and involving seven ministries, the new plan assumed the easiest solution: to meet the growth in demand by increasing the supply. However, the possibilities to do so are limited. From a hydrological point of view, the Nile River has huge potential, but political, administrative and environmental constraints make it difficult to develop that source. The investments in the new plan are:

  • Investments in the drinking water and sanitation sector to reduce losses from water networks, increase seawater and brackish water desalination, and reduce the level of drinking water station sockets.
  • Investments by the MWRI to increase water efficiency and decrease consumption, develop the irrigation system in old lands, improve water quality and prevent pollution of water sources, and raise the efficiency of groundwater.
  • Investments by the Ministry of Agriculture to reduce the export of crops with a high water footprint and to develop field irrigation.

With few possibilities to increase its supply, Egypt needs to improve the efficiency of its current resources and decrease the losses, making more water available for actual use. The new plan also uses virtual water to improve the efficiency of water use for productive agriculture and trade in Nile Basin countries.

[1] For alternative projections, see also Siam, M. and Eltahir, E., 2107, Climate change enhances interannual variability of the Nile river flow. Available at: www.nature.com/articles/nclimate3273, accessed [10-11-2018].

[2] Allam, M. N.; Allam, G. I., 2007. ‘Water resources in Egypt: Future challenges and opportunities.’ Water International, 32(2), 205-218. Available at www.academia.edu/2187337/Water_Resources_In_Egypt_Future_Challeges_and_Opportunities, accessed [10-11-2018].