Lessons from Egypt’s Water Crisis

Egypt has been experiencing a water crisis for years. People in some parts of the country continue to experience water shortages that last days on end. The reasons for this water crisis are varied but include factors like population increase and irrigation methods. While the government is taking steps to combat pollution problems in the Nile, other factors continue to remain unaddressed, leading experts to predict Egypt’s water crisis to grow in the coming years.

Egypt’s Water Crisis

Egypt is already struggling to cope with water shortages throughout the country, which affects the public access to fresh water, food production, and the ability for businesses to access water rates. All water rates are dictated by the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities, and private businesses cannot enter the market. Egypt’s annual per capita water supply is predicted to drop from 600 cubic meters to 500 cubic meters by 2025, which means it would meet the United Nations threshold for absolute water scarcity. Egypt has only 20 cubic meters per person of internal renewable freshwater resources, meaning many have to rely on the Nile as the only source of water.

Lesson: when a public service is failing to provide adequate supplies, the typical solution across the world is to introduce free-market principles gradually. Cairo has already seen some slow introduction of private companies, mostly to aid wastewater treatment, but if this can be extended to water bidding, the market might sort out some of the problems relating to distribution. Water rates for business in deregulated countries are variable, not set by the state, and scholars like von Hayek would argue for more efficient delivery of services.

Population Increase

Egypt’s population is growing at a very high rate, with a 41% increase since the early 1990s. Government reports state that there are approximately 4,700 new-borns every week. Research suggests that this rate of population expansion is not expected to slow any time soon; rather, the population is predicted to grow from its current 103 million to 110 million people by 2025. The high rate of population growth in Egypt continues to put a strain on the water requirements for domestic consumption as well as agricultural demand, as increased irrigation water will need to be used to meet higher food demands.

Lesson: this is a problem that has been predicted in many countries for many years, with some thinkers even warning of water wars in the future. Egypt may want to take measures to curb its population (e.g., incentives for having fewer children), but redirecting population growth to areas with infrastructural support is another possible solution.

Irrigation Methods

Irrigation is a necessary technique to sustain food production in the country due to two factors: the rate of rainfall and arable land. Egypt receives a very low rate of rainfall, averaging 80mm a year. The majority of Egyptian country land is desert, with only 3.6% of the land being arable. The combination of low rates of rainfall and agricultural land availabilities leads to excessive watering and wasteful irrigation techniques like flood irrigation. A continued decrease in the water supply would have a direct impact on the amount of arable land within the county. It would likely lead to unemployment, as agriculture is the biggest youth employer in Egypt.

Lesson: the importance of irrigation cannot be understated and smart technologies that preserve water should be the future of Egyptian agriculture. However, this is a medium-term solution, and in the long term, it might be beneficial to go the other way and reintroduce traditional irrigation techniques, as used in desert communities throughout the Middle East, with governmental support where necessary.

The Future of Egypt’s Water Crisis

The United Nations predicted that water could be scarce in Egypt by 2025. This prediction is based upon a continued rate of population growth and the lack of reclamation projects. The report also cites the surface water evaporation in Lake Nasser as a contributing factor; the average evaporation rate is currently 7mm and is thought to rise to 7.3mm by 2050. The report also predicts climate change to impact the entire Nile basin due to the Nile’s high levels of sensitivity to temperature and precipitation changes due to its low runoff and rainfall ratio.

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