CIC - Construction Intelligence Center

Egypt’s national strategy to resolve its water related issues

19 Jul 2018

Recent moves to support Egypt’s water supply come amid concerns over how it will be affected by Ethiopia’s nearly built Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The GERD, under construction at a cost of US$4.7 billion, is 64% complete, which Ethiopia hopes will provide a constant supply of affordable electricity to aid the country's modernization ambition. The Nile-dependent nation fears that the dam could spell doom for its water supply, creating a tension between both countries. According to the Food and Agriculture Orgnisation of the United Nations, the Nile supplies 85% of all water in Egypt.


Egypt is embarking on a national strategy involving the execution of various water related projects to manage its water needs until 2037 at an initial cost of about US$20 billion. The programme includes clear procedures for dealing with the challenges of the current and future water sector and facing water pollution in all governorates, which is a high priority on the government agenda, as well as skill-building for ministry employees, as one of the pillars of development.


Egypt suffers from a water deficit of 30 billion cubic meters; it needs at least 90 billion cubic meters of water annually to cover the needs of its 90 million citizens. However, it currently has only 60 billion cubic meters, of which 55.5 billion cubic meters come from the Nile and half a billion cubic meters come from non-renewable subterranean water in the deserts.


The building of the GERD on the River Nile and its effects on Egypt’s share of Nile water have led the government to increase the country’s water desalination projects to be ready for possible water shortages. Egypt is constructing 19 desalination plants to purify water from both the Red and Mediterranean Seas. New industries and other facilities setting up in the Suez Canal Economic Zone are now expected to get the bulk of their water from desalination. The ministry of housing, utilities and urban development recently announced that 6 of the 19 projects will be operational by the end of 2018. 


Until 2017, Egypt produced about 140,000 cubic metres of water (m3/d) from desalination per day, and the volume increased at the beginning of 2018 to around 250,000 m3/d because of the Al-Yusr Plant in the governorate of Hurghada, which is one of the biggest in the world, and acts as an alternative for providing the governorate with fresh water, instead of the pipe lines from the Nile, which cost considerably more. The Armed Forces Engineering Authority has contracted with Spanish company Aqualia to launch a desalination plant in Alamein located on the Mediterranean Sea with a capacity of 150,000 m3/d.


According to Yasmine Ghozzi, economist at Global Data, Egypt is rapidly turning to desalination for any fallout from an upstream dam being built by Ethiopia. The new strategy aims to tackle the country’s shortfall in water supply of 30 billion m3/d. It also means that more water will be available for the various uses and the water quality will improve considerably. Ghozzi adds that Egypt’s future is almost certainly in desalination. While the cost of desalting seawater has fallen to between US$0.50 and US$1 per cubic metre worldwide, desalted water is far more expensive than what Egyptians are used to paying and the water will only be practical at the high end, such as residential and industrial use. The government should eventually begin charging more for traditional sources of water to reflect its real value, something that will not be popular among a population that has enjoyed free water for millennia