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’If we don’t work together on water scarcity, we won’t be able to survive’

The Nile has been supplying Egypt with water for thousands of years. But climate change and (future) hydropower projects in the Nile basin are putting the water supply under pressure. And with that, food supply and economic stability. Regional cooperation is the only solution, says Perihane Allam, water specialist at the Dutch embassy in Cairo.

Women in crowd smiling and talking

‘A lot of people in Egypt are interested in water, and aware of water scarcity. Our water supply faces massive challenges like climate change, population growth and a large dam being built in the Blue Nile. But the issues go further than that. In Egypt, you can’t discuss water security without mentioning food security. That’s because 85 percent of Egypt’s water is being used for agriculture. That means if  there’s not enough water, people will get hungry especially when there’s also enormous pressure from population growth and climate change.’

Agriculture in Egypt

‘Innovation is key in dealing with the challenges facing Egypt. At the embassy, we are working with the government on strategic plans and the introduction of new agricultural practices. But it’s a complex formula that should allow increased food security while using less water. Also, new technologies tend to depend on less labor, so it’s very important we create alternative jobs too and safeguard the peace and stability of the whole ecosystem. That’s why almost all our interventions include socio-economic support for vulnerable agricultural communities, including women and youth.'

Smiling woman talking and smiling with people

'Introducing new techniques is not easy, especially in upper Egypt, where the lands are fragmented and farmers have an average of half an acre. You need to bring the land of these smallholders together first before you can introduce any good irrigation practices. So there is a lot of education and trust building involved. Farmers have generally been eager to join, because they see their crops being hit hard by extreme weather events.’

Talking about the Blue Nile

‘If I mention the political side of water everyone always says "Oh, Ethiopia". People in Egypt know of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being built in the Blue Nile, which supplies much of Egypt’s water. The GERD is expected to start operating in 2020. Egypt is concerned that the GERD will affect river flow patterns and its share of Nile water. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been in talks about the filling and operation of the dam’s reservoir since 2012. Amid the lack of an agreement and the rapid climatic changes, Egypt will be expected to suffer dire consequences on agriculture, employment, economy, tourism and the country’s stability as a whole.’

Young woman and man in suit both smiling

Working together, living together

‘My interest in the subject came from the fact that water is life… it is as simple as that. Rivers in general go beyond just being a water supplier for their nations. They are believed to have souls and consciousness. In the case of the Nile river, it has borne witness of the history, civilization and heritage of its people. Many songs and poems on the Nile speak of it as a source of beauty, pride and fertility.’

‘Sometimes, decision makers tend to forget how similar their ideas and beliefs are about the Nile. The Nile has always shared its generosity across boundaries and cooperation between countries should follow suit. I would love to see a real regional transboundary cooperation taking place. As a matter of fact, we have to. The risks are coming and nobody can avoid them. If we don’t learn to live and work together, we won’t be able to survive.’