Egyptians took to the streets to protest water shortages this summer, reports Inter Press Service
(IPS), but despite widespread domestic press coverage of the groundbreaking protests and repeated assurances from Egyptian government officials, Egypt seems to have made little progress in resolving its water shortage problems. Even after President Hosni Mubarak and his cabinet announced a plan to invest $180 million in the construction of small water purification centers in areas susceptible to shortages, popular protests began or continued in multiple provinces. Mohamed Nagi, head of the Habi Centre for Environmental Rights
in Cairo, told IPS, “The recent demonstrations show that citizens have lost faith in longstanding government promises to provide them with adequate drinking water.”
Indeed, as the University of Maryland’s Ken Conca points out in “The New Face of Water Conflict,” “Amid the talk of looming ‘water wars,’ a less dramatic—but more immediate—link between water and violence is often ignored: the violence engendered by poor governance of water resources.” The IPS article seems to confirm Conca’s assertion that how well water is managed can be as important as how much water is available. According to Nagi, Egypt’s water infrastructure is chronically underfunded and mismanaged. The article also notes that a study by Egypt’s state-run National Research Centre found that 85 percent of Egypt’s total potable water was wasted due to the poor condition of water distribution systems.
Egypt faces persistent water shortages despite the fact that it and Sudan hold absolute rights to use 100 percent of the Nile’s water under agreements signed in 1929 and 1959. The other countries that depend on the Nile—Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—are poorer and less powerful than Egypt, so their access to water is even more precarious than Egypt’s. For one scholar’s vision of how the 10 countries of the Nile River basin could cooperate around shared water management, see Patricia Kameri-Mbote’s “Water, Conflict, and Cooperation: Lessons from the Nile River Basin.” Kameri-Mbote believes that the combined efforts of local and national civil society groups and the Nile Basin Initiative, a high-level forum that brings together ministers from the Nile basin countries, could lead to more stable, sustainable, and equitable use of the Nile’s water.