Egypt is witnessing several crises related to its water security and agriculture, starting with the Sudanese accusations that Egyptian agricultural products are affecting the Sudanese people with the Cholera epidemic, and recently the Saudi remarks on Egyptian agricultural products. Water issues are also threatening Egypt’s national security.
Professor of Soil and Water Resources at Cairo University Nader Nour El-Din talked to Daily News Egypt about these issues and explained his view of the Egyptian-Ethiopian escalation on water resources.
Why did Saudi Arabia stop importing the Egyptian strawberry? How can Egypt avoid this in the future?
Fair to say that exportation in Egypt is witnessing chaos and the absence of any strict and effective monitoring system, and the head of the Egyptian Export Promotion Centre and the deputy of the parliament’s Agriculture Committee stated at the same time that there are thousands of exporters who take agricultural products from the field to airports and ports directly, and the government has no idea about it and does not regulate the process.
Previously, exporters had the right to get certifications saying that the product has no pollutants from private agencies, and as we know these agencies do what the exporter wants, so the government should be the only source of these certificates and be limited to the Central Lab of Residue Analysis of Pesticides and Heavy Metals in Food (QCAP Lab), which is affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture.
But the equipment at the QCAP Lab needs to be updated and the lab needs to be provided with sub-labs at ports and governorates.
Two months ago, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused receiving shipments of Egyptian green peppers due to the high amount of pesticides over the legal international rate; however, the strawberry shipments were rejected because it contained the internationally banned Bromomethane.
Recently, the Sudanese government imposed a ban on importing some Egyptian agricultural products and ceramics on accusations of being irrigated by contaminated water. How do you interpret the Sudanese position?
The Sudanese position is different from the Gulf state’s position. Gulf states followed the scientific method and attached lab results with the rejection to receive the Egyptian products. In contrast, Sudan banned the Egyptian products due to political, not scientific reasons, because of the campaign of hatred by Sudan against Egypt for no reason.
Also, the Sudanese government wants to accuse the Egyptian agricultural products of the cholera epidemic that is has spread among the Sudanese people lately. Sudan did not mention any scientific reasons for its position and announced that it was said in Egyptian media outlets that Egyptian cultivated lands are being irrigated by sewage water.
Using sewage water on irrigation in Egypt is absolutely wrong, because Egypt officially consumes about 50 to 57 billion square metres of Nile water annually in agriculture, according to the report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO] in 2012; however, the sum of sewage water in Egypt is 5 billion square metres, and most of this water goes to the sewage-treatment plants in Cairo and other governorates, and what goes to irrigation canals is not compared to the amount of Nile water used in irrigation, which records 57 billion square metres per year.
For these reasons, the Sudanese decision is a political and unscientific or objective decision. But Sudan announced lately that it will reconsider its decision, following a meeting between President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour early in June.
Sudan will reconsider its position not because of keenness on brotherly relations with Egypt, but because it found the alternatives cost a lot and are so far from Sudan, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
How did we reach to Entebbe? Why does Egypt reject this agreement?
The problem with the Entebbe agreement is that upstream countries do not believe in any agreements signed before the Entebbe agreement in 2010; however, Egypt calls for respecting the commitment of the historic agreements. The Nile River receives nearly 3.9% of the sum of water resources in upstream countries and the rest is wasted water, but if the Nile Basin countries cooperated, this will lead to collecting nearly 100 billion square metres of water.
However, upstream countries want to share only the water of the riverbed [between the two banks]. Egypt says sharing should include the whole amount of the river’s resources. Also, Ethiopia insists in refusing and removing the principle of previous notices to downstream countries before any projects over the river, and Egypt refuses the principle of the absolute sovereignty on the common resources.
Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, and Eritrea did not sign the agreement; however, the other six countries signed.
The agreement says in its article 39 that any country which signed the agreement has the right to withdraw it in the future after two years from the date of signing it, and the two years have already gone, so maybe when the White Nile upstream states realise the honest role of Egypt and the Ethiopian efforts to dominate the whole river’s water which falls on its territories, then maybe these states withdraw the agreement, especially after enhancing relations with Egypt.
How can we understand the Ethiopian position against Egypt?
History refers to the failure of all Ethiopian negotiations, and that Ethiopia respects only the principle of power. That was clearly apparent when it took the opportunity of the 25 January revolution to start its maneuvers in establishing the Renaissance Dam and finishing the issue of the Entebbe agreement.
So, the president’s visits to African countries are very important in order to restore Egypt’s role in leading the continent. Also, the attendance of Egypt’s president in the Nile Basin states summit adds value to these meetings.
Egypt insists to attend these meetings and not leave others to manipulate others’ destinies. Ethiopia wants to hold the whole amount of water falling in its territories [72 billion square metres annually] in order to sell this water to its neighbors. Also, Ethiopia claims that Egypt wastes huge amounts of water in irrigating the desert.
On the occasion of the international celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification (17 June), how can Egypt face desertification?
Desertification is transference of the cultivated land into unproductive land such as the desert, and the United Nations devoted a day to celebrate efforts in combating desertification because it knows the important role of cultivated lands as a natural and renewable source of food, which is being harmed by human activities as well as by climate change and global warming.
There is also another reason for desertification; it is building in the cultivated lands and shifting them into cities. So, the government should stop building over cultivated land to save its cultivated areas.
How can Egypt face the climate change and water crisis?
Egypt now suffers from a 31 billion square metre water shortage annually because of its overpopulation [93 million], and every citizen’s portion should not be less than 1000 square metres per year. The state is working on using 12 billion square metres of agricultural runoff, about four billion square metres of sewage water, and about one billion square metres of the industrial wastewater, but unfortunately all these amounts are not treated.
What is your evaluation of the Egyptian desert reclamation projects?
I believe that the south of the state should be advocated for industrial activities because it does not need a lot of water and helps in providing work opportunities in this area.
All desert reclamation projects in Egypt are in north of the state such as Al-Nubarya, Al-Salhia, and Wadi Al-Natroun, and there are no successful desert reclamation projects in the south.
Does Egypt suffer from a food crisis?
Yes, Egypt suffers from a food crisis and we import 60% of the basic food, which costs the state about $10 billion annually. Egypt is the biggest importer of wheat, by 12 million tonnes per year.
The main reason of the food crisis is shortage of water, so the state should reorganise the agricultural system. Egypt can achieve the self-sufficiency of edible oils, sugar, beans, and lentils.
Is it good that the government announces the Nile Delta as a nature preserve and banning building over the whole Delta?
I wished the new Constitution included an article declaring the Delta as a nature preserve, so building over it will become illegal, but some of the committee members [committee that has written the constitution] argued that it will be difficult to stop urbanisation amid the limitation of the area.
Building over the cultivated lands increases the food gap in Egypt and causes an increase in expending on exportation by the hard currency. The state can face building over the Delta by building new buildings in cities.