As Egypt faces the challenge to its water resources posed by the Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia has erected over the Blue Nile, and as it wages a bitter war to defend its quota of the Nile waters—a war which the Egypt’s political leadership is handling with remarkable shrewdness, wisdom, and competence—it becomes evident that our water resources ought to be exploited rationally on all levels. These resources include the waters that flow into Egypt from the upper Nile; groundwater stored in the heart of the earth for thousands of years, seawater that may be desalinated, and recycled water that may be treated and used for irrigation. Using every possible source is vital in view of the exponential growth in population and consequently, in development plans.
In this issue, Watani opens the file of “Treated drainage water … a future wealth to irrigate gardens and green spaces”. The feature sheds light on the government’s plans and efforts to recycle drainage water which has so far been disposed of through runoff canals that only served to create pollution and further waste. The idea is to turn this wastewater from a discounted value to an added value for investment and development.
Before we open this file, however, we might remember another relevant file: that of the rationalisation of water consumption through the degree of purity of water. “Untreated water networks” had existed in Egypt decades ago, even before the alarming gap between available water resources and population growth. At the time, Egypt economised on the cost of purifying water, applying thus one form of rationalisation of consumption. Two separate water networks existed side by side: one carried “treated, pure water” and another carried “untreated, turbid water”. The pure water was pumped into residential and urban units for drinking and daily life activity purposes, whereas the turbid water was used to irrigate gardens and trees, or in activities not directly impactful on human health.
Sadly, with the unplanned urban expansion that overtook Egypt in the 1960s and 1970s, the “turbid water networks” disappeared, just as the “rain water drainage networks” did, and the “garbage disposal chutes” and “heating gas networks” in buildings also did. Many systems that had been embedded in urban specifications had to be sacrificed in favour of more “public housing”, the result being a great drop in environmental standards and a serious rise in pollution levels. Younger generations were deceived into accepting inferior standards of shoddy urban expansion.
Today, Egypt is rethinking its water policy basing on the fact that every drop of water is valuable and uncompromisable. The matter has gone beyond the pure and turbid water networks; modern technology opens the door wide for recycling irrigation runoff that would have otherwise been wasted. Following various degrees of treatment, it can be reused for irrigation, fish farms or gardens. We now have the option to purify the water once, twice or three times, and use each according to its degree of purity in relevant needs without causing any hazards to human health. Wastewater is turning into a wealth for the future.
4 June 2021