Egypt faces an imminent water crisis which could jeopardize the country’s stability and regional dominance. Egypt is currently below the United Nations threshold of water poverty. The current water shortage in Egypt is 13.5 Billion Cubic Meters per year which is expected to continuously increase. According to hydrologists, a country is considered to be facing water scarcity if supplies drop below 1,000 cubic meters per person annually. Egyptian officials state there are currently around 570 cubic meters (150,000 gallons) of water available per person per year. This figure is expected to drop further to 500 cubic meters by 2025.
The UN is already warning that Egypt could run out of the water (Day Zero) by the year 2025. Furthermore, the river Nile is the main source of water with around 85 million Egyptians depending on it. The river Nile is the backbone of Egypt’s industrial and agricultural sector and it is the main source of drinking water for the population covering 95% of the annual freshwater budget. However, as Ethiopia (a Nile upstream country), plans to start filling its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by July 2020, this is expected to lower water to threatening levels in Egypt and negatively impact power generation at Egypt’s dam in Aswan which threatens Egypt’s water security.
Water Challenges in Egypt and Conventional Solutions
In addition, some of the major factors that play havoc with water security in the country are water losses due to the failure to rationalize water consumption, uneven water distribution, rising population, misuse of water resources, as well as the consequences of a higher standard of living, growth of industrialization, water pollution, the absence of actual control on factories disposal of hazardous waste materials in water, the increased use of chemicals in agriculture, inefficient irrigation techniques (mud and soil instead of sprinkler and drip irrigation), degradation of watercourses and drainage systems and the deterioration of the current water transmission pipelines, low public awareness of water scarcity and water quality deterioration.
Moreover, climate change effects on Egypt being a downstream river Nile country. Furthermore, challenges in cooperation with upstream Nile basin countries; besides, rising populations and rapid economic development in the upstream countries of the Nile (11 countries). All these factors are decreasing water quantity and quality in Egypt.
Conventional solutions for water resources include agricultural drainage water, desalinated brackish groundwater and/or seawater, and treated municipal wastewater. These resources represent merely 22.2% of the total available water resources and are generally used for agriculture, landscaping, and industry through specialized processes. Desalination is practiced on a small scale at present, mainly along the Red Sea coast.
AWG: A Promising Non-conventional Solution for Water Scarcity
Did you know that wherever air exists, water exists? At sea level, air contains roughly 1% water vapor, and even in the desert, a cubic area the size of a house can contain up to 16 liters of water, according to Harvard scientists.
Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) is a device that extracts water from humid air. Water vapor within the air are often extracted by condensation which is essentially cooling the air below its temperature, exposing the air to desiccants (substances which absorb humidity), or pressurizing the air. AWGs are useful where pure water is difficult or impossible to get because there’s nearly always a little amount of water within the air which will be extracted. In contrast to a dehumidifier, an AWG is designed to render the water potable utilizing two primary techniques which are cooling and desiccants.
Policy Recommendations for AWG Implementation in Egypt
The potential of private sector involvement in water management in Egypt has been acknowledged by the Egyptian Water Policy (EWP) authorities by enhancing the participation of the public and private sectors with other civil society groups and organizations. The EWP sought institutional reform policy in water management by transferring public responsibilities to the private sector to improve the performance of the irrigation and drainage system. Still, the government has to facilitate the flow of funds directed to private water projects whether it be domestic or foreign investments.
The flow of funds is one of the major obstacles circumventing the involvement of the private sector in water projects in Egypt. This will speed up the process for the private sector to engage effectively in solving the water scarcity problem through innovative solutions such as the AWG devices. In addition, investment in research and development will further propel the Know-How in AWGs galvanizing several companies to adopt this sustainable solution. This will not only lower the device’s cost but will encourage the discovery of methods to overcome the challenges related to its use.
The setup and operation of an AWG device, even with a huge scale, is affordable for businesses and some households. However, for the neediest households, public utilities such as schools and hospitals, and small-scale farmers, the AWG solution can be expensive to set up. In addition, the operation of the device may be costly especially if the AWG device model is not solar- powered so it would require constant electricity to run. Accordingly, it is recommended that the government step in to subsidize the setup and operation of this device for vulnerable communities and customers. The former intervention in pricing is essential so as not to transfer the higher price of water to food which can disrupt economic stability.
In addition, for vulnerable people, who are so poor, that if they would have to pay the full costs they could not buy water, this may disrupt social stability. If subsidizing the setup of the AWG device is not feasible then it is recommended that the government adopts a BOS model. The government can buy the devices, operate them, and then sell them with installments to the civil society. This latter option should also be open for private sector companies, accordingly, the government should grant them licenses to undertake the BOS of AWGs.
Furthermore, the current AWG devices require users to go to the machine, then bring the water back with them. This distribution system makes it difficult for those who are most in need to actually obtain the water generated for their communities which imposes an allocative challenge. It is recommended that given the government’s vision to remain fully responsible for the main infrastructures of the irrigation and drainage system, the government has to create alternative allocation methods to connect the water supply from the devices to end-users. This is another area where public-private sector cooperation can bring about several solutions such as the introduction of either small AWG devices called economic units or big scale devices both of which can serve households, farmers, and manufacturers according to their needs and financial abilities.
Finally, the supply of water in Egypt is about to become more problematic, it will touch the lives of all people. If all stakeholders do not fully understand the gravity of the water scarcity situation in Egypt and fully cooperate this may jeopardize not only their well-being but their mere Being.
Efficient water management policies can definitely mitigate the severity of the water situation in Egypt but the problem can not be fully resolved without policies that engage the entire society in developing innovative water solutions such as the AWGs.
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Co-Authored by Noha Farrag and Mohannad Hesham
About the Authors
Noha A. Farrag is Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), hosted in Universities of Canada in Egypt. She is also certified in Human Resource Development. She formerly coordinated the Internship program between Institute of Law and Economics at Hamburg University and the German University in Cairo.
Mohannad Hesham Abouelrouse
Mohannad Hesham Abouelrouse is the founder of Life From Water Foundation, one of the top 50 international sustainable water solutions companies. Mohannad has extensive experience in strategic planning, business operations, organization and personal development. He is a consultant in several industries and sectors including IT, Digital Marketing, Publishing, Construction, Agriculture, as well as, Nonprofits and Social entrepreneurship.