Friday, August 17, 2007

Egyptian villages fight water war

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: 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 metres (706 billion cubic feet) a year, according to government statistics. 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 prioritising 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 (130 million euros/117 million dollars) in emergency measures to relieve those most affected.

…"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. Egypt's water war, he said, is going to take years to resolve and, by then, new problems will have arisen….

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

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