Water Scarcity in Egypt

Egyptian landscape

Water scarcity is expected to be a major issue in Egypt in the upcoming years. (Photo credit: Lin Sen/Shutterstock)

Egypt, located in northeastern Africa, has an arid climate. Only 6 percent of the country is arable and agricultural land; the rest of the country is desert. Over the past 60 years, Egypt’s population has grown by more than 60 million people. Researchers suggest that by 2050, the population could reach between 120 and 150 million.   Given Egypt’s growing population and its arid climate, environmental scientists warn a water crisis is quickly approaching.

The main source of fresh water in Egypt is the Nile River. While the country is positioned at the end of the river’s flow, through agreements with Sudan, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water per year. In Egypt, the Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960s, controls the flow of the Nile River.

Little rainfall occurs in Egypt. Most rains occur during the winter along the country’s coastal region. The total amount of rainfall ranges between 80 and 200 mm per year. Because of the unpredictability of precipitation, it cannot be relied upon as a source of fresh water.

Groundwater in Egypt is stored in aquifers, but due to their deepness and relative inaccessibility, groundwater is also not a reliable source of water. Desalination of the sea is another potential source of fresh water. However, the process is only currently economically viable in tourist developments along the Red Sea, where the value of fresh water is so high that it is enough to cover the cost of desalination.

As the population in Egypt grows, so too does the demand for fresh water. Research indicates that by the year 2020, Egypt will be consuming 20 percent more water than is available. Experts warn that this extreme scarcity could lead to political instability.

Another water issue faced in Egypt is the availability of clean water. Along the river’s course, the Nile is heavily polluted by agricultural runoff, industrial effluent, and municipal sewage. Managing these sources of pollution will be key to ensuring access to clean water for the Egyptian population.

While the future may appear bleak, there are a few measures that can be taken now to help ensure there is water in the future. Because the agricultural sector uses the most water, it is also the area where more water could be conserved. Many farmers utilize flood irrigation to water their crops; experts recommend switching to drip irrigation, which would decrease the amount of water lost to evaporation. Switching to more water-efficient crops would also use less water. Changing planting dates to coincide better with natural climate patterns, such as planting cotton during cooler months rather than hotter ones, could also help to reduce the total amount of irrigation needed.

More to Explore
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Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster
Water Scarcity in Egypt: The Urgent Need for Regional Cooperation among the Nile Basin Countries
Water Issue in Egypt: Resources, Pollution and Protection Endeavors

Country: Egypt
Location: Egypt is located in northern Africa. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Libya to the west, and the Red Sea, Gaza Strip, and Israel to the east, and Sudan to the south.
Area: 1,001,450 square kilometers. It is about eight times the size of Ohio.
Climate: Egypt has a desert climate that features hot, dry summers and moderate winters.
Terrain: The terrain of Egypt mostly consists of desert plateau.
Natural Resources: Asbestos, gypsum, iron ore, lead, limestone, limited freshwater resources, manganese, natural gas, petroleum, phosphates, rare earth elements, talc, zinc
Economics: $551.4 billion (2013 estimate)
Environmental Issues: Desertification, growing human population, oil pollution, urbanization, water pollution
CIA – The World Factbook

While EcoZine is on summer vacation, we are posting articles from the archives. This article first appeared in March 2015.