Egypt’s fresh water is decreasing at alarming rates, and the country will face nationwide shortages by 2025, according to a report published in the Geological Society of America’s May issue. The report forecasts that dwindling freshwater supplies and the increasing salinity level of the Nile Delta’s agricultural land threaten to make the country uninhabitable by 2100.
The non-profit US organization’s report attributes these changes to the effects of climate change and increased human activity near the Nile in recent decades, including the construction of dams on the river in Egypt and in Ethiopia.
“A minimal relative sea-level rise of ~100 cm is predicted between now and the year 2100 at the Nile delta’s coast,” the report reads. If the prediction is accurate, the new sea level will be approximately one meter higher than the average sea level along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, which, in addition to land subsidence and salinification of agricultural lands in the Nile Delta, will likely have a significant impact on Egypt’s population, agricultural production and the overall habitability.
“It is not necessarily the case that whole towns and cities along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast will be underwater, but seeping seawater and the increasing salinity of soils may make the area uninhabitable,” Ahmed al-Droubi, an environmentalist and coordinator for the Egyptians Against Coal Campaign, tells Mada Masr.
Droubi argues that a one-meter sea level increase could result in the loss of approximately a third of the Nile Delta’s arable land, a development that would place a further strain on Egypt’s dependence on foreign sources, as the country currently importing around 50 percent of its food.
While many of the predications carry grave future developments, incremental changes are already being observed. The GSA report asserts that soil in the delta region is being submerged at a rate of 1 cm each year due to rising sea levels, coupled with land subsidence and sediment compaction, and that the intrusion of seawater is already resulting in highly saline soils along the northern portion of the Nile Delta.
Most of the fresh water that reaches the Nile Delta is diverted and channeled into complex and inefficient networks for the distribution of agricultural water. Open irrigation networks continue to result in a high rate of evaporation of the Nile’s fresh water, a notable fact as a report issued by the Irrigation Ministry states that agriculture accounts for around 85 percent of Egypt’s water consumption.
Less than 10 percent of the Nile water flow currently exits into the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt’s northern coast, according to the GSA report. This outflow is “a mostly saline and highly polluted aqueous mix,” which means there is little replenishment of soil sediments, rendering agriculture largely unviable.
Droubi says the amount of fresh water available in Egypt “may drastically fluctuate” in the coming decades due to factors like global warming and rising ocean temperatures, compounded by the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
“There may be a 50 percent decrease in the fresh water available to us. These figures are not yet confirmed, but there will be a great deal of variability and unpredictability,” Droubi says. “This would make agricultural planning difficult or unsustainable in the future.”
The GSA report pays particular attention to the construction of dams along the Nile as a causal factor in the current situation and future challenges.
Construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s and the Old Aswan Dam decades earlier have served to lessen the quality and quantity of soil nutrients reaching the Nile Delta, according to the report, which adds that the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will impact the flow of the Nile River to Egypt even further. Estimated to be completed later this year, the new Ethiopian dam may drastically reduce Egypt’s access to Nile water – perhaps by as much as 25 percent – over a time period just over five years, during which the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir will be filled to its capacity. There are also talks to build further dams further upstream in Sudan.
The GSA projects that Egypt will be beset by a country-wide fresh water and energy shortage as early as 2025. Chronic water shortages have already been noted in some areas of Egypt in recent years.