Women and children fetch water at the banks of river Nile. For decades, the Nile has been the main source of water for Egypt. Untill now, families fetch water from the riverbank. Photo Credit: David Boyer - www.nationalgeographic.org
Egypt's water resource is estimated at about 60 billion cubic meters annually, most of it from the Nile River, in addition to very limited amounts of rainwater and deep groundwater in the deserts. In contrast, the total water needs in Egypt reach about 114 billion cubic meters annually...
The Nile River is the most prioritized issue that receives a lot of attention as it is the main source of water in Egypt; the same has been confirmed in numerous comprehensive and specific legal agreements with the Nile Basin riparian states, obligating everyone to respect it. In return, Egypt cooperates with the Nile Basin riparian states and participates in many of its development projects. Egypt has also contributed to the establishment of numerous dams and underground drinking water stations; has prepared the necessary studies for projects to build multi-purpose dams to provide electricity and drinking water with brothers in African countries.

Egypt's water resource is estimated at about 60 billion cubic meters annually, most of it from the Nile River, in addition to very limited amounts of rainwater and deep groundwater in the deserts. In contrast, the total water needs in Egypt reach about 114 billion cubic meters annually (according to the statement of the Minister of Water Resources on March, 2021).

Water challenges facing Egypt

The water sector in Egypt faces many challenges that the government is trying to deal with through finding practical solutions. These challenges are:
  • Population increase: is a major challenge to water resources. It is estimated that the total population in Egypt will exceed 175 million people by 2050, which represents a great pressure on water resources.
  • Climate change: is a major challenge to Egypt's water resources in light of the remarkable rise in temperature, as well as the extreme and unprecedented weather phenomena that Egypt is witnessing, such as intense rain that hits separate areas of the country; in addition to the rise in sea level and its dangerous negative impact on cities and coastal areas.
  • The uncertainties with the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: and its likely impact on the waters of the Nile River is a major challenge facing Egypt; especially in light of the proposed plans by the Ethiopian government regarding filling and operating the Renaissance Dam, and the likely negative upshots resulting from executing these plans.

The existing water sources

Egypt is trying to maximize the benefits of the water resource, given that water is the mainstay of development and it has direct impact on the present and future Egyptian’s political, economic, and social security. Water resource in Egypt is limited to two types:

  1. Traditional sources
    - The Nile River: The Nile is the main source of water, as Egypt's share is 55.5 billion cubic meters, representing 79.3% of the water resources in Egypt, and covering 95% of the current water needs.
    - Underground water: The amount of the used groundwater in Egypt is estimated at about 6 billion cubic meters annually in the valley and the delta, and this amount can be increased in the future to reach 7.5 billion.
    - Rain: Rain is not a major source of water in Egypt due to the small amounts that fall in winter; about 1 billion cubic meters of rainwater fall on Egypt every year.
  2. Unconventional sources:
    - Reuse of agricultural wastewater: The annual average of agricultural drainage water is about 12 billion cubic meters. About 5 billion cubic meters are currently being reused. Efforts have been made to help increase it to 9 billion cubic meters in 2017, to be mainly used in agricultural expansion projects.
    - Treated waste water: Treated sewage water can be reused for irrigation, on condition that it meets the internationally recognized health conditions, as its quantity is about 2.5 billion cubic meters annually. About 1.3 billion cubic meters of this water is recycled for use desert cultivation projects.

Water uses in Egypt

Agriculture represents the largest part of water use in Egypt - amounting to about 65 billion cubic meters of the total uses in 2017/2018. The water needs of the industrial sector were estimated at about 4.5 billion cubic meters in 2018, of which about 9.4 billion cubic meters were actually consumed in 2018/2019 and the rest Returns to the Nile, canals and drains in a polluted condition.

As for drinking water and health use purposes, it is estimated at about 4% of the total use in 2018, according to the bulletin of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in 2019. The average percentage of losses in pure drinking water is estimated at about 9% of the total water; this is lost in dilapidated networks, homes, schools and government agencies.

Egypt's water needs until 2021

Egypt's total water needs are about 114 billion cubic meters annually, although the available share ranges between 60 and 61 billion cubic meters annually, including the annual share of Nile waters in addition to other sources such as groundwater. It is worth noting that Egypt is one of the driest countries in the world due to limited and unstable water resources coupled with a large population increase; this increase has registered about 25 million people in the last 10 years.

In order to confront the problem of water shortage, the government is working to treat all types of waste water to be suitable for reuse, and make the overall efficiency of water use in Egypt among the highest in Africa and the world. The government's efforts to raise water use efficiency are based on several axes, including lining of canals, using modern irrigation projects, and improving water quality and efficiency.

Elham Afify, National Technical Support Expert - Egypt

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