The Nile, the second longest river in the world, is now almost lifeless, too polluted. A concrete example of the challenge represented by access to water for the years to come. The Nile basin covers more than three million square kilometres, or 10% of the surface area of the African continent, and extends over eleven countries.
Its waters constitute an important resource for some 500 million inhabitants of North-East Africa. However, due to population explosion and climate change, the Nile is expected to face a shortage of fresh water by 2025, according to the UN.
Some small states, in particular island states, are warning of rising waters that threaten them. Access to blue gold is another major issue of our century, which is already a source of numerous conflicts. As in Africa, where several countries are fighting over the sharing of the Nile. The dam currently being built by Ethiopia is angering Egypt, which draws most of its water from it. However, the river is already under pressure: overfishing and pollution threaten Egyptian farmers and fishermen.
Numerous studies have shown that pollution, especially in the northern part of the Nile, has increased over the past decades.
The causes are multiple: wastewater and waste dumped directly into the river, agricultural runoff and the discharge of hydrocarbons and chemicals from the industrial sector.
All these discharges induce a strong presence of heavy metals (iron, manganese, copper, nickel, cadmium, lead), with dramatic consequences, according to experts, on the state of biodiversity.
Local residents suffer from it for fishing, many of whom make an informal living from it, and for their health because the polluted water of the Nile, if it is treated for everyday consumption, leads to diseases such as schistosomiasis or typhoid fever.
In Egypt, around 150 million tonnes of industrial waste ends up in the Nile every year, according to a 2018 report by the national environment agency.
The need for water is all the more crucial since if population growth continues at the same rate, the country should have 120 million inhabitants in 2030. Already around 7% of Egyptians do not have access to drinking water and more eight million to proper sanitation. facilities.
At the same time, throughout the Nile basin, global warming is causing a significant increase in hot and dry seasons and also, occasionally, heavier rains.
“The frequency of hot, dry years is expected to at least double by the middle of the century,” Justin S. Mankin, a geography professor at Dartmouth College and a climate scientist who took part in a study on the upper Nile basin, told AFP (Agence France-Presse).
As a result, according to him, around 2050, “up to 45% of the population of the upper Nile basin is expected to lack water”. Also according to this researcher, the consequences observed upstream of the river should have repercussions downstream.
Another challenge completes this picture: the rising waters of the Mediterranean linked to global warming are causing salt water to enter the Nile delta, threatening the main agricultural region of the country, cultivated since time immemorial.
Cotton is one of the most common plants along the Nile and requires a lot of water. But in total, the agricultural sector could shrink by almost half by 2060, according to climate specialists.
In this context, experts are concerned and call on Egypt to diversify its sources of drinking water.
“Egypt must invest in water sources other than the Nile,” Jeannie Sowers, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire and author of a book on Egypt’s environmental policies, told AFP.
“That means prioritizing desalination plants on the coasts…and improving irrigation and drainage networks,” she said. Such projects have been launched in the past but have not been sufficiently developed, in particular due to the bureaucracy and economic turmoil linked to the 2011 revolution and the subsequent changes in the leadership of the country.