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News Egypt: Water shortages bring suffering to Egypt's countryside

Water shortages – and the unrest they cause– are making headlines in Egypt, but the problem has been building since 2011. Amid the security vacuum that emerged following the 2011 revolution, thousands of residents on the peripheries of Cairo and other cities began illegally constructing buildings and linking them up to the official supply pipes. Tens of thousands of new pipelines have tapped into water supplies that barely suffice for the citizens already there.

To make matters worse, when people illegally connect their homes to makeshift pipelines they tend to break and waste resources.. According to a 2014 report by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, as much as 35% of all residential water leaks into the ground because of the deteriorating pipe network. Without this wastage an additional 11 million inhabitants could have fresh water.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials bogged down by the post-revolution turmoil have done little to correct the problem. “The issue of water is that it is not a priority to the government,” said Khaled Wasif, spokesperson for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. Only a fraction of the money needed to maintain the network is actually allocated each year by the government, he said.

The company that operates and maintains the network of pipes, the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, , has been so under-funded in recent years that it cannot properly carry out its functions, according to an inside source.

Without enough money, water sector projects have been put on hold, except for a limited number financed by foreign donors. In a vicious cycle, this pushes more people to resort to illegal DIY solutions that cause the grid to deteriorate faster.

Shortages can last for a few hours a day in upscale districts such as New Cairo, a few days in villages like Ezbit el-Taweel, or as long as five years in some rural areas such as Sandub in Mansoura, where residents have grown accustomed to receiving water for only two hours a day.

When taps go dry, residents have little recourse except a ruthless black market. People in villages with water will often load tanks onto trucks and transport them to nearby residents in need – for a price.

Residents in Belqas said the price of bottled water increased every day from the beginning of Ramadan. As dozens of people waited in lines outside shops and kiosks, the price of a 1.5 litre bottle jumped from three pounds to 10 pounds within days.

There are no quick or easy fixes to water scarcity and the resulting sanitation concerns, but Ibrahim Salman, head of the Mid-Delta Drainage Canals Authority, believes that there are three possible solutions.

The first is pumping for underground water, which is expensive, takes time and draws on finite sources of groundwater. The second is adopting water-efficient agricultural technologies like drip irrigation, instead of the flooding techniques still used by most Egyptian farmers. This, Salman said, is a long-term solution, not one that can be implemented overnight. The third is finding ways to recycle water from drainage canals. Unfortunately, at present these canals carry highly toxic industrial and agricultural waste mixed with the low toxicity freshwater.

Last year, the Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly announced that all Egyptians would be connected to water and wastewater networks within eight years, provided his ministry receives enough money from the cabinet. However, until that happens, thousands of people will be forced to wait in line, resort to black markets, and build creaky pipes of their own just to get a few drops of water.

Contact information Mohamed Ezz & Nada Arafat
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information The Guardian
Keyword(s) water crisis, water scarcity
Geographical coverage Egypt
News date 10/08/2015
Working language(s) ENGLISH