Problems on hold Still losing the Nile Silt

12-06-2016 11:58 AM

Youssef Sidhom






A week ago Egypt marked two years into the presidency of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. This called for a review of the President’s achievements during the first half of his four-year term. The list left the majority of Egyptians gratified and proud at the huge, diversified accomplishments on the political, economic and social fronts. These successes promise a comeback for Egypt as a leading regional power, and assert that the country is on the right path towards a modern civic State and a revitalised economy, to a qualitative shift in freedom, social justice and human dignity.

I noted with much comfort the momentous contribution of our armed forces during the past two years in the fields of reform and development, besides its great original role in protecting the nation and defending it against the forces of evil terrorism.

In a televised interview last week, President Sisi offered the nation an account of the pledges he had made and honoured. He shared his perspective of the arduous work that awaits us in the near future. Sisi was his usual candid self when he insisted that Egyptians must work hard and stand up to the great challenges and hardships ahead. He promised that hard work, unity and the rule of law can get us where we aspire to be.

The accomplishments President Sisi mentioned promise a brighter future. The gigantic national projects which are either underway or in the planning stage include roads and infrastructure networks, energy production, a new administrative capital, development of the Suez Canal region, development of Sinai and Upper Egypt, greening millions of feddans of desert land, and attracting huge foreign investment to finance these projects and create millions of job opportunities. In addition to the physical accomplishments, President Sisi also listed the Constitution-stipulated reform along legislative, educational, health and social security lines, with the aim of building Egyptian citizens fit to partake in democracy and modernity, and measure up to global progress standards.

The host of projects, plans, and objectives is worthy of the mobilisation of all Egyptians behind it. They must work hard and ignore the tides of scepticism that aim at breaking them, confusing them and stealing their confidence in themselves, their nation and their armed forces. As we step into the third year of Sisi’s presidency, hopes and aspirations are vibrant yet challenges are pressing; serious work is an inescapable necessity.

There is one national project, however, that I missed finding on the long list of giant projects cited by President Sisi. This concerns the Nile silt which is kept by the Aswan High Dam from reaching the lands of Egypt downstream. Last November I tackled this problem under the title The Nile silt we are losing []. Ever since the Aswan High Dam was built in the 1960s, it has served to control the waters of the annual Nile flood that pours down from the Abyssinian Plateau in Ethiopia. The dam saved Egypt from the hazards of low floods that brought on drought, and high floods that threatened lives and homes—such hazards are today history. It also helped Egypt generate generous amounts of electric power. The downside of the High Dam, however, is that it has deprived Egypt of the silt carried by the annual floodwaters as they make their way down from Africa. This silt is rich in natural nutrients and minerals; it used to settle on Egypt’s Nile Valley and Delta and cover the land with a renewable layer of soil that endowed the land with the legendary fertility that made it ideal for agriculture. For the past 45 years the silt has not been able to pass through the High Dam, and has instead piled up deep in Lake Nasser, the reservoir south of the dam, affecting its storage capacity. The Nile Valley and Delta agricultural lands have been deprived of that rich silt.

When President Sisi reviewed the long-term national projects currently underway, he said that this generation was planting a seed the fruit of which will be picked by our children and grandchildren. In the same context I point out that we owe future generations not to saddle them with the grievous problem of the Nile silt, a problem that if not tackled now is sure to aggravate beyond measure. Even though some experts insist that the problem is not a serious one, other experts argue that the problem of the Nile silt must be promptly addressed.

Curiously, a former Ministry of Irrigation source declared that a Japanese company had proposed to Egyptian authorities a project that aims at benefiting from the accumulated silt to reclaim millions of feddans for organic agriculture, the yield of which can be exported to countries outside Egypt. Yet the project never saw light. Another agriculture expert divulged that years ago a group of foreign investors proposed a project to recover the silt from the High Dam reservoir so that Egypt can have its need of it and export the rest to countries that need to boost the fertility of their agricultural land. He said the project did not meet approval.

Once again I put forward the issue of what to do with the Nile silt, an issue long placed on hold. This time I present it directly to President Sisi, hoping it finds its way to a specialised study and to the national project that it warrants. The generation that built the High Dam must shoulder its historic responsibility vis-à-vis future generations.


Watani International

12 June 2016


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