REUTERS | May 3, 2010
Egypt needs to cut water waste and use new technology in agriculture and other fields to support its case for the lion share of the Nile’s resources over other African states, a global water expert said.
Egypt, which gets almost all its water needs from the Nile but faces possible shortages as early as 2017, has angered upstream states by sticking to colonial-era pacts that guarantee it can use most of the Nile’s flow.
The row over the Nile detracts from the real problem of poor water management in Egypt and the other upstream states clamouring for a bigger share, Asit Biswas, director of the Third World Centre for Water Management, told Reuters on Sunday.
“Water is not a priority in most of the Basin countries,” he said. “But for Egypt it is of critical importance .. But the way it is looking to the future is regrettably very traditional.”
He said all parties could do more, adding that 30 percent of rainfall in African states on the Nile was not being used for agricultural or other productive reasons and Egypt squandered more than 40 percent of water used by households, often due to lack of awareness.
“Egypt needs a radical overhaul of its water management plan in order to cope with its water scarcity,” said Biswas, who has advised several United Nations agencies, aid agencies and governments like in Egypt, India and Singapore on water issues.
“People have been saying we face a water scarcity issue. I say this is a bunch of baloney, the fundamental problem is us. The solutions are there but we are not using them and the most convenient excuse is that we don’t have enough water,” he said.
Agriculture firms are investing in sustainable farm research on new crops and better management, but Egypt and its Nile Basin peers have lagged in tapping this potential, Biswas said.
Farmers should be given incentives to buy seeds for crops, like rice that use water with higher salt levels, or drought resistant wheat, he said, adding the extra costs for such seeds would be met by higher yields.
Egypt has cut back rice production as part of its effort to reduce water intensive crops.
“These possibilities are no longer in the realm of science fiction. It’s not a question of if this research can be available, but a question of when,” he said.
Several U.S. agricultural businesses, including DuPont and Monsanto Co, seek to double farm output by 2050 to meet rising world food demand, working on projects such as developing maize that need less fertiliser.
Syngenta, the world’s largest agrochemicals maker, has developed products like genetically modified (GM) seeds.
Biswas said the Egyptian government, and other African states, should work more closely with such firms to meet demand for food, while also reducing water usage.
Despite the need for more food, some African states like Zimbabwe and Zambia have banned GM food imports fearing they could be harmful to animals and humans.