Cablegate: Thirst On the Nile


DE RUEHEG #2839/01 2621502
R 191502Z SEP 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Thirst on the Nile

Ref: Cairo 1877

Sensitive but unclassified. Please handle according.

1. (U) SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION: Although significant progress
has been made in improving infrastructure for potable water and
sanitation, including $3.3 billion in USAID assistance since 1977,
poor maintenance due to poor management practices, combined with
population pressures, mean that many Egyptians in rural areas do not
have full-time access to running, potable water. Irrigation water
is also a problem, due to crumbling infrastructure, inadequate or
non-existent tariffs, and increasing demand. Egypt's share of Nile
waters, set in a 1959 treaty with Sudan at 55.5 billion cubic meters
(m3), is no longer adequate for current usage patterns and
population growth. In response to recent protests and media
criticism, the GOE plans more spending on maintenance and
construction, and a reorganization of agencies response for
infrastructure and water services, but lacks a long-term plan to
rationalize water consumption. END SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION.

3. (U) For Egyptians growing up within sight of the Nile, and who
consider water a free good, the ideas of increased tariffs and water
conservation are difficult to accept. The days of unlimited water
are gone, however. In 2005, the average per capita share of water
available in Egypt (including irrigation) was 770 cubic meters (m3)
per year. The UN considers a country to be in a situation of "water
scarcity" when its population has access to less than 1000 m3. In
comparison, gross per capita water consumption in the U.S. is 10,000
m3 per year, and in Europe, 2000 to 3000 m3. By 2020, the UN
projects that per capita share of water in Egypt is expected to drop
even lower - to 590 m3.

4. (U) Over the summer, emboldened by successful strikes at textile
factories, villagers throughout Egypt have held highly publicized
demonstrations about water shortages. Villagers in Daqahliyah
governorate protested a lack of access to drinking water in August,
claiming drinking water was channeled to the Gamasah beach resort,
which primarily serves wealthy Cairenes. Daqahliyah Governor
General Ahmed Abdin responded that water in the governorate has been
rationed to villages since 2001, and that Gamasah receives 30,000
cubic meters per day, similar to the rations received by other
villages in the governorate.

5. (U) Residents of other Delta governorates and some Upper Egyptian
governorates have also been protesting irrigation water shortages,
including in Sharkiya and Beni Suef. In August, emboffs visited
villages in Daqaliya and Sharkiya governorates. Villagers said
irrigation water does not meet the needs of local farmers, who are
forced to use drainage water to irrigate fields. The high salinity
of the drainage water limits the crops farmers can grow; one of the
few crops farmers can grow under the circumstances is rice. The
villagers told emboffs that if they had clean irrigation water, they
could grow more profitable crops such as vegetables, corn and
cotton. Villagers also complained that local officials from the
Ministry of Irrigation have been unable to address their complaints.

6. (U) In a recent interview, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said 250
villages lack access to drinking water, and many others have either
an insufficient or irregular supply. Water plants in Egypt, he
said, purify 20 million cubic meters (mm3) of water daily.
Estimating that about one-third of that is "lost," about 14 mm3, or
about 200 liters per capita per day, remain. The GOE has a regular
annual budget of LE 2 billion ($350m) for new construction of water
and wastewater facilities. In 2006, another LE 20 billion ($3.5b)
was allocated for new construction in rural over a five year period.
The GOE has also allocated LE 1 ($175m) billion to maintain,
upgrade and expand water infrastructure, in response to recent media

7. (U) Eighty-five percent of water consumed in Egypt is used for
irrigation, and controlled by the Ministry of Water Resources and
Irrigation (MWRI). This ministry has the lead on international
water issues, as well as the timing and flow of water through the
Nile below the Aswan High Dam. Irrigation water flows mainly
through canals that draw water from the Nile. Some farmers complain
that farmers close to the Nile, or those with political connections,
take more than their share and do not leave enough for other
farmers. Moreover, canal water is controlled by poorly paid local
representatives of the Ministry of Irrigation. Farmers in the Delta
told emboffs that they sometimes have to pay bribes to get water.
To address this problem, USAID is supporting the formation of Branch
Canal Water Users Associations (BCWUAs). These groups develop their
own distribution schedule for the canals and sub-canals to better
manage available resources and make the system more equitable.

8. (U) More significantly, Egyptian farmers, and small farmers in
particular, continue to use flood irrigation, rather than
modern/water-saving techniques such as drip or sprinkler irrigation.
Although the GOE has begun charging commercial farmers for water in
some new farming areas, most irrigation water is free. This removes
any financial incentive to invest in new technology, or to conserve
water. Moreover, a lack of financing means small farmers cannot
invest in equipment, seeds, training etc. to convert to other crops.
Even where drip irrigation is installed, farmers are often
unwilling and/or unable to maintain it. To keep a drip irrigation
system running, lines must be checked daily. Flood irrigation, used
in Egypt for millennia, is easier and cheaper.

9. (SBU) The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MALR)
issues guidelines to farmers on rice and sugar cane cultivation, in
an effort to rationalize water use. These guidelines are widely
ignored. Rice, a water-intensive crop, is reportedly grown on
two-three times the area allocated by MALR. Fines for exceeding

space targets are seldom enforced. Another popular crop is sugar
cane, which requires little if any tending during the growing season
but is also water intensive. Commenting on Egypt's 1 million metric
tons of annual rice exports, Parliamentarian Sherif Omar told emboff
that "exporting rice is like exporting water."

10. (U) The potable water and waste management system, managed by
the Ministry of Housing, is also under heavy pressure. Inadequate
tariffs, low collection rates, and poor management have resulted in
clearly inadequate services. As noted in para 6, the GOE plans to
increase spending on infrastructure. Water shortages also affect
industry. Many textile companies, for example, which require an
uninterrupted supply of clean water, have built their own water
treatment plants on site. The companies draw water directly from
the canals, and purify it themselves. This ensures an adequate
supply, but requires additional investment pushing up their
production costs.

Addressing the problem

11. (U) Management challenges are exacerbated by the Balkanization
of responsibility for water. The Ministry of Irrigation controls
international negotiations and most water used within Egypt, while
the Ministry of Agriculture controls farm policy, including crop
guidelines. Within the Ministry of Housing, there are separate
agencies for construction, and operations and maintenance. Finally,
tariff rates are set by the Prime Minister directly. Although
ministry representatives sit on each other's boards, interagency
coordination is difficult and ineffective.

12. (SBU) Minister of Housing Ahmed Magrabi recently told an AmCham
audience that the situation in the Delta is unacceptable. At his
request, USAID will assist in managing the GOE's ambitious
investment plan. Other changes include reforms to the administrative
structure of the Ministry of Housing's water authorities, and
creation of creating regional public companies responsible for
construction, maintenance and supply of drinking water. Water
issues must be addressed together with housing; service to existing
neighborhoods is only part of the picture as the GOE must also cope
with vast new "illegal" developments. The GOE is trying to
rationalize ground water use for non-economic uses, such as golf
courses, fountains and car washes. According to press reports, the
guidelines are not always followed, including in the new expensive
housing and commercial developments around Cairo, featuring golf
courses, pools and lawns. It is not clear to what extent Magrabi is
tackling these longer-term zoning and development issues.

13. (SBU) Minister for Irrigation Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a competent
career bureaucrat, has put together a plan for water usage through
2017, based on integrated resource management. He faces
considerable challenges in getting farmers to shift to less-water
intensive crops, and to drip irrigation. Under current policies,
however, it is clear that savings achieved by Agriculture or in the
potable water system are intended to support continued expansion of
agriculture, into the Sinai for example, rather than to reduce
pressure on Nile resources. Prime Minister Nazif recently announced
the GOE would conduct a review of agricultural policy, but did not
specify if the review would address irrigation issues. Egypt's
water problems are likely to continue unless and until the
government takes a comprehensive look at how to use Egypt's water
resources more efficiently.

© Scoop Media

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