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Sun, Aug 19, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Water wars force Egyptian government to invest in infrastructure

AFP , CAIRO

A resident of Borg al-Borollos, Egypt, carries a jerry can after filling it with potable water on July 18.

PHOTO: AFP

The land of the Nile is seeing a rising tide of protests at a shortage of drinking water amid accusations the government would rather irrigate golf courses than slake the thirst of villages.

A wave of demonstrations and ensuing clashes with police in recent weeks has left dozens injured in a country where the Nile River provides 95 percent of fresh water and irrigation uses up 80 percent of that.

The Arab world's most populous nation, with 76 million people, has a water deficit of 20 billion cubic meters a year, government statistics show.

Many inhabitants of the desert nation's villages are forced to resort to buying jerry cans of water from occasional tanker trucks or improvising wells to bring up often unclean water.

Water-borne illness, diarrhoea and dehydration are common in Egypt and "the thirsty," as the road-blocking protesters have been dubbed by the Egyptian press, say the government is doing nothing to end their plight.

Some accuse the government of prioritizing water for the wealthy and for tourist destinations while villagers often have to pay water bills even when their taps are dry.

New, middle class residential developments outside Cairo and the requisite golf courses and swimming pools further strain resources.

Faced with the mounting popular anger, Habitat Minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi announced the release of one billion Egyptian pounds (US$117 million) in emergency measures to relieve those most affected by the shortages.

New water pipes will be laid, around one hundred purification plants built and 500 wells dug in a country where many villages have not had running water for months or even years.

"Medium-term measures seem to be adequate, but they're not going to solve the immediate problems," said Hamdi al-Sayyad, president of the doctors' syndicate.

A report by the government's National Water Research Centre warned recently that Egypt would suffer widespread water shortages, or even complete drought, around 2025, due mainly to an ongoing population explosion.

Irrigation Minister Mahmud Abu Zeid admitted recently that only 60 percent of Egyptian towns and four percent of villages have proper sewage systems.

As a result, every year 1.8 billion cubic meters of domestic waste gets poured into the Nile, a total dwarfed by the 13 billion cubic meters of agricultural and industrial waste that takes the same path.

Clean water also disappears into the sand because of the network's age as well as individuals who try to hijack it for free.

"We waste huge amounts of water in Egypt," said Sayyed. "People don't realize it's become a precious resource."

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