Module Twenty One, Activity Four

Current Issues Afflicting Egypt

The purpose of this activity is to read current and recent articles that talk about three issues afflicting Egypt. After reading these articles, you will apply what you read to think critically about the future of Egypt and the impact that the issues discussed in the article may have on Egypt’s future.

Activity: Begin this activity by reading the two articles below, Water Issues Afflicting Egypt and Rising Water Table Threatens Egypt’s Monuments.

Part One: Water Issues Afflicting Egypt
With a rising population, Egypt faces a new problem. Please go to the following website from the BBC, to read a printed article about the “Water Wars” in Africa: or read the story below.

Beginning of Article

Monday, 15 November, 1999, 13:39 GMT

Africa’s potential water wars

Potential Water War

By BBC News Online’s Russell Smith
The main conflicts in Africa during the next 25 years could be over that most precious of commodities – water, as countries fight for access to scarce resources. Potential ‘water wars’ are likely in areas where rivers and lakes are shared by more than one country, according to a UN Development Programme (UNDP) report. The possible flashpoints are the Nile, Niger, Volta and Zambezi basins.

Water Basins Map

The report predicts population growth and economic development will lead to nearly one in two people in Africa living in countries facing water scarcity or what is known as ‘water stress’ within 25 years. Water scarcity is defined as less than 1,000 cubic meters of water available per person per year, while water stress means less than 1,500 cubic meters of water is available per person per year. The report says that by 2025, 12 more African countries will join the 13 that already suffer from water stress or water scarcity

Nile battle 
The influential head of environmental research institute Worldwatch, Lester Brown, believes that water scarcity is now “the single biggest threat to global food security”. He says that if the combined population of the three countries the Nile runs through – Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt – rises as predicted from 150 million today to 340 million in 2050 there could be intense competition for increasingly limited water resources. “There is already little water left when the Nile reaches the sea,” he says. And he predicts that Egypt is unlikely to take kindly to losing out to Ethiopia – a country with one-tenth of its income. Indeed water is already a catalyst for regional conflict. In the dying years of the previous Ethiopian government, tensions with Egypt increased rapidly when the rulers in Addis Ababa pondered the construction of dams on the Blue Nile. There is also another potential water war in Southern Africa involving Botswana, Namibia and Angola. The River Cuito which begins in Angola before heading through the Caprivi strip in Namibia and ending in the marshlands of the Okavango Delta in Botswana runs through an area that is no stranger to tensions and conflict between neighbours.

Grain imports 
Fresh water is also becoming increasingly unusable because of pollution. But given increasing populations Worldwatch identifies one way of easing demands for water – importing grain. Agriculture is by far the biggest user of water in Africa accounting for 88% of water use. It takes about 1,000 tons of water to produce every ton of grain. Worldwatch claims that the water needed to produce the annual combined imports of grain by the Middle East and North Africa is equivalent to the annual flow of the Nile. Importing grain is much easier than importing water, but for poorer countries in Africa it may not be an option. For this reason the UN proposes monitoring worldwide reserves of drinking water and establishing agreements for the use of water.

End of article

Why are there water issues in Egypt?
96 % of Egypt is a desert – so water is a valuable resource in Egypt because of this. As you know, deserts are very dry. So, why is Egypt called a “breadbasket”?  As was covered earlier in activity one, each year the Nile floods and takes possession of the bank of the Nile River. As the water recedes there is a layer of thick black mud which is a rich soil that farmers would use to plant their crops. Now, with the population rising and the dams being built there have been some issues that have arisen. Farmers need to grow crops year round due to the needs of an increasing population. Since there is no more annual flooding of the Nile, due to the Aswan Dam, there is no replenishment of soil that was deposited on narrow strip of land where farmers grow their crops, which means that they rely on the use of artificial fertilizers. The soil has become very saline and there are issues of erosion occurring.

This is not the only water issue in Egypt. The Nile River flows through many countries in Africa. Three countries in particular are interested in the issue of water: Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. As the population in these three countries grows, so does the need for the usage of water. If you look at the table below, you will see that Egypt has a great interest in how the water of the Nile River will be used.


You have read at the beginning of this lesson an article from the BBC about the water shortage issues arising between these countries, but remember that it is only one side of the story. Many people believe that there is no water shortage and that the three countries are working together to solve any issues that may develop. Look at the statistics given by the UN and The World Factbook about these three countries. Make your own conclusions using the questions below for discussion, the table, and the BBC article. Prepare an essay on your beliefs after reading the materials and answer the question, is there a water shortage in Egypt? You may also want to look into the Nile Basin Initiative ( which was founded to help improve relation and resources between the many countries that touch the Nile River.


Divide the class into three groups (each group will represent one country) and using table 1 below, make graphs/charts to use in your discussion about who has the greatest interests in the water from the Nile River. Each group will present their poster/display about their information that will give information about their country’s water needs and usage.

Questions for discussion:
Who has the most problems receiving water for their population?
How does a country/continent decide how the water should be used and shared?
Why do certain countries have more issues with water than others?
What would be a good solution to this problem?
Where is the most likely place a potential water shortage going to occur?
Are there any places in the United States that may also (or may already have) encounter this problem? Why? Where?

Table One: Water and Population Statistics for Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan

(Data comes from and The CIA World Fact Book 2006.)

Water and population table

How should water be used in Egypt?
We have now established that there is some controversy over the issue of water in Egypt. Not only are people worried about shortages, and which country will receive usage of it, but they also must worry about how the water is to be used. Water is often being used for free. There are many uses in Egypt for water besides the basic necessities: tourism, new industries, schools, urban communities, and golf courses. At the Desert Development Center they are reclaiming the desert land and turning it into lush green developments, using up large amounts of water to irrigate the land for these developments. The growing population of Egypt needs land to live on and reclaiming the desert for this use, could be seen as one way to solve that problem. But at the same time, these developments are using large amounts of water (14 million cubic meters per day) to irrigate the desert land.

Important terms:
But should the precious water of the Nile be going to irrigate land? There are estimations that Egypt will be facing a “water poverty” (per capita shares of water will drop extensively under the standards that are seen as acceptable) as the population continues to grow. Many people believe it is a human right to have access to water; the World Water Council website quotes, “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements” (General Comment 15, CESCR, 2002). As it is, drinking water used by some people in Egypt is polluted. There is a need for many people to receive clean, safe water for things like drinking, washing and cooking. Is water being used appropriately in Egypt?

Water resources: water that is available for human use (domestic, industrial, agricultural)
Water supply:  water that is treated for drinking purposes
For more information look up these organizations:

  1. Nile Basin Initiative
  2. Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation
  3. World Water Council
  4. The International Consortium for Cooperation on the Nile (part of the Nile Basin Initiative)

Part Two: Economic and Environmental Concerns of Egypt

After learning about the economic and environmental concerns below, think about what will happen to tourism in Egypt because of these problems and how it will economically and culturally impact the country.

Not only are Egyptians worried about the water supply of Egypt, but there is also a concern for the biggest economic asset to Egypt: historical artifacts. Due to the rising population and inadequate sewage systems – tourist attractions like the Great Sphinx have been in danger of ruin. The water tables of Egypt have been rising and leakages in sewage systems have increased this problem, along with the building of the Aswan Dam. Salt build up accumulates from the water tables (the water table is the level below the ground that is completely saturated with water) and the leaking sewage systems. It is this salt that destroys the historical artifacts like the pyramids. The Aswan Dam also influences this issue due to the accumulation of fertilizers that build up (since the flooding is now controlled by the dam).

Read this article from National Geographic Today and answer the following questions:

  1. What is threatening the historical monuments of Egypt?
  2. What are the main reasons for the threat on the monument?
  3. Who do you think should help to solve this issue? How will they go about doing this?
  4. Do the benefits of the Aswan Dam outweigh the negative outcomes from the Dam?
  5. What will happen to Egypt’s economy if these monuments are ruined?
  6. Do you think that this article represents the feelings of most Egyptians? How do you think people living there may feel? Are the artifacts their biggest concern (think about what you have read in the other article about water usage)?

Read this article from National Geographic Today.

Beginning of article

Rising Water Table Threatens Egypt’s Monuments

Retrieved from:

Chad Cohen
National Geographic Today
May 31, 2002

In the crowded, garbage-strewn alleys and market streets of Mataraya, one of Cairo’s poorest and busiest neighborhoods, lies one of Egypt’s most sacred sites—Ancient Heliopolis. The city and other archaeological treasures in Northern Egypt are under serious threat from forces above the ground, but perhaps even more from below.
A leaking sewage system, exacerbated by a rising population, has caused the water table—the upper level of groundwater—to rise and threaten to turn the ancient tombs and temples to dust, said Zahi.

“The water table brings salt, and this salt damages the limestone—it turns the limestone to a powder,” Hawass said.
Heliopolis dates back 6,000 years. It was the first great priestly city of Egypt. It is where the sun god Ra had his temple, where great scholars first invented the obelisk and the solar calendar, and where the legendary phoenix set itself on fire and rose from its own ashes.
But Heliopolis is destined to join the desert sands if the salty waters are not stopped. Hawass has proposed building a new sewage system just for this area.

In addition to faulty sewers, Richard Stephenson, a professor of civil engineering at University of Missouri-Rolla, hypothesizes that the Aswan Dam also contributes to the rising water table. It enables farmers to irrigate year-round and may also cause a buildup of salt.
The Nile Plateau was originally a seabed, and the sands and soil are naturally salty. Before the dam was built in the 1960s, the annual Nile floods would wash the salt into the Mediterranean. Now it prevents flooding, allowing natural and fertilizer salts to accumulate, says Stephenson, who is collaborating with Egypt’s National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics to investigate Luxor’s disintegrating monuments.
The pore structure of the soil encourages “strong capillary action,” Stephenson said, which draws the salty water to the surface and into the porous sandstone foundations of the monuments. The dry desert heat then causes the water in the stones to evaporate, leaving behind “salt crystals that cause the sandstone to split, flake and crack,” Stephenson said.

Last July, while in Luxor, Stephenson found white salt deposits on the foundation stone of temples in Luxor.
Possible solutions include installing wells to lower the water table, replacing foundation stones with less porous material, and injecting chemical sealant between structures and the soil to create water barriers—all of which are tremendously expensive and risk damaging the monuments.
When archaeologists discovered a 2,500-year-old tomb of a palace worker in Mataraya, it was soaking in sewage. The water was seeping through the exterior limestone and causing the precious hieroglyphs to disintegrate. Hawass says that for a tomb its size, it is one of the most beautifully decorated in all of Egypt.

In a race against time, Hawass and colleagues dismantled the tomb, numbered, labeled, and treated the blocks, and restored the drawings.
The restoration was completed earlier this month and the tomb now sits on a concrete base in a dry area well above the water table. “If we had waited more than one month, this tomb could have been gone.”
It’s not just small tombs that could crumble to dust. Hawass first realized how serious a threat the rising water levels were to Egypt’s monuments when water crept to within two feet of the great sphinx of Giza.
To rescue it, a massive three-year project to build sewage systems in surrounding villages caused the water level to drop to about 27 feet (8 meters) below the surface.
But rising water is riddling the whole of Egypt. And nowhere is the problem more severe than in northern Egypt, where the Nile branches off into the delta before emptying into the Mediterranean.

In Zagazig, the site of another once great temple about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Cairo, workers recently discovered an 11-ton (10-metric-ton), well-preserved head, most likely of queen Nefertari, wife of Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled about 3,300 years ago. The find is special because the artifacts in the north don’t usually fare as well as the ones in the south, which has a much drier climate.
Hawass said Zagazig is just one of hundreds of sites in the delta, and he’s convinced this area still holds many more treasures.
“But I need the help of foreign expeditions,” Hawass said. “Therefore I’m going to direct and make rules that any new expedition [Egyptian or foreign] that wants to come and work in Egypt should work in the Delta to save the monuments before they are destroyed by the water table.”
Building a sewage system for the entire Delta is impractical, says Hawass. The only way to save the monuments is to excavate and remove them from danger. “You have to start working right now,” Hawass said.
With help, like that mythical phoenix, Egypt’s ancient mysteries will also rise, not from fire, but from water.

End of article

Global Warming and the Impact on Egypt
You have been reading in this lesson about issues that impact the water quality and supply of Egypt. Global warming is yet another issue Egypt must face. Read the article below from the New York Times published April 1, 2007. As you read the article answer these questions: Why is Egypt at risk due to global warming? Who will be responsible for helping countries who are affected by global warming? How will the “breadbasket” (agriculture sector) of Egypt be affected by global warming?

Beginning of article

Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms
Joao Silva for The New York Times

A woman harvesting corn in Malawi, an African country that is already prone to drought and faces grim prospects under global warming

A woman harvesting corn in Malawi, an African country that is already prone to drought and faces grim prospects under global warming

Published: April 1, 2007

The world’s richest countries, which have contributed by far the most to the atmospheric changes linked to global warming, are already spending billions of dollars to limit their own risks from its worst consequences, like drought and rising seas.

But despite longstanding treaty commitments to help poor countries deal with warming, these industrial powers are spending just tens of millions of dollars on ways to limit climate and coastal hazards in the world’s most vulnerable regions — most of them close to the equator and overwhelmingly poor.

Next Friday, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that since 1990 has been assessing global warming, will underline this growing climate divide, according to scientists involved in writing it — with wealthy nations far from the equator not only experiencing fewer effects but also better able to withstand them.
Two-thirds of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Those and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater to drinking water, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought.

In contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations that are most at risk.
“Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic,” said Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We’ll see the same phenomenon with global warming.”

Those in harm’s way are beginning to speak out. “We have a message here to tell these countries, that you are causing aggression to us by causing global warming,” President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda said at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February. “Alaska will probably become good for agriculture, Siberia will probably become good for agriculture, but where does that leave Africa?”
Scientists say it has become increasingly clear that worldwide precipitation is shifting away from the equator and toward the poles. That will nourish crops in warming regions like Canada and Siberia while parching countries — like Malawi in sub-Saharan Africa — which are already prone to drought.
While rich countries are hardly immune from drought and flooding, their wealth will largely insulate them from harm, at least for the next generation or two, many experts say.

Cities in Texas, California and Australia are already building or planning desalination plants, for example. And federal studies have shown that desalination can work far from the sea, purifying water from brackish aquifers deep in the ground in places like New Mexico.
“The inequity of this whole situation is really enormous if you look at who’s responsible and who’s suffering as a result,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations climate panel. In its most recent report, in February, the panel said that decades of warming and rising seas were inevitable with the existing greenhouse-gas buildup, no matter what was done about cutting future greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Miller, of the Hoover Institution, said the world should focus less on trying to rapidly cut greenhouse gases and more on helping regions at risk become more resilient.

Many other experts insist this is not an either-or situation. They say that cutting the vulnerability of poor regions needs much more attention, but add that unless emissions are curbed, there will be centuries of warming and rising seas that will threaten ecosystems, water supplies, and resources from the poles to the equator, harming rich and poor.

Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, a NASA expert on climate and agriculture who is a lead author of the United Nations panel’s forthcoming impacts report, said that while the richer northern nations may benefit temporarily, “As you march through the decades, at some point — and we don’t know where these inflection points are — negative effects of climate change dominate everywhere.”

There are some hints that wealthier countries are beginning to shift their focus toward fostering adaptation to warming outside their own borders. Relief organizations including Oxfam and the International Red Cross, foreseeing a world of worsening climate-driven disasters, are turning some of their attention toward projects like expanding mangrove forests as a buffer against storm surges, planting trees on slopes to prevent landslides, or building shelters on high ground.

Some officials from the United States, Britain and Japan say foreign-aid spending can be directed at easing the risks from climate change. The United States, for example, has promoted its three-year-old Millennium Challenge Corporation as a source of financing for projects in poor countries that will foster resilience. It has just begun to consider environmental benefits of projects, officials say.

Industrialized countries bound by the Kyoto Protocol, the climate pact rejected by the Bush administration, project that hundreds of millions of dollars will soon flow via that treaty into a climate adaptation fund.
But for now, the actual spending in adaptation projects in the world’s most vulnerable spots, totaling around $40 million a year, “borders on the derisory,” said Kevin Watkins, the director of the United Nations Human Development Report Office, which tracks factors affecting the quality of life around the world.

The lack of climate aid persists even though nearly all the world’s industrialized nations, including the United States under the first President Bush, pledged to help when they signed the first global warming treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, in 1992. Under that treaty, industrialized countries promised to assist others “that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation.” It did not specify how much they would pay.

A $3 billion Global Environmental Facility fund maintained by contributions from developed countries has nearly $1 billion set aside for projects in poorer countries that limit emissions of greenhouse gases. But critics say those projects often do not have direct local benefits, and many are happening in the large fast-industrializing developing countries — not the poorest ones.
James L. Connaughton, President Bush’s top adviser on environmental issues, defended the focus on broader development efforts. “If we can shape several billion dollars in already massive development funding toward adaptation, that’s a lot more powerful than scrounging for a few million more for a fund that’s labeled climate,” he said.

But it is clear that the rich countries are far ahead of the poor ones in adapting to climate change. For example, American farmers are taking advantage of advances in genetically modified crops to prosper in dry or wet years, said Donald Coxe, an investment strategist in Chicago who tracks climate, agriculture and energy for the BMO Financial Group. The new seed varieties can compensate for a 10 or 15 percent drop in rainfall, he said, just the kind of change projected in some regions around the tropics. But, he said, the European Union still opposes efforts to sell such modified grains in Africa and other developing regions.

Technology also aids farmers in the north. John Reifstack, a third-generation farmer in Champaign, Ill., said he would soon plant more than 30 million genetically modified corn seeds on 1,000 acres. It will take him about five days, he said, a pace that would have been impossible just four years ago. (Speedy planting means the crop is more likely to pollinate before the first heat waves, keeping yields high.) The seed costs 30 percent more than standard varieties, he said, but the premium is worth it. Precipitation is still vital, he said, repeating an old saw: “Rain makes grain.” But if disaster strikes, crop insurance will keep him in business.
All of these factors together increase resilience, Mr. Reifstack and agriculture experts said, and they are likely to keep the first world farming for generations to come.

Robert O. Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale focused on climate, said that in the face of warming, it might be necessary to abandon the longstanding notion that all places might someday feed themselves. Poor regions reliant on unpredictable rainfall, he said, should be encouraged to shift people out of farming and into urban areas and import their food from northern countries.

Another option, experts say, is helping poor regions do a better job of forecasting weather. In parts of India, farmers still rely more on astrologers for monsoon predictions than government meteorologists.
Michael H. Glantz, an expert on climate hazards at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has spent two decades pressing for more work on adaptation to warming, has called for wealthy countries to help establish a center for climate and water monitoring in Africa, run by Africans. But for now, he says he is doubtful that much will be done.
“The third world has been on its own,” he said, “and I think it pretty much will remain on its own.”

End of Article

Conclusion: This lesson focused on the water issues of Egypt. This issue is not only faced by the country of Egypt, but in many countries around the world. This lesson brings up many complicated questions. Who should be enforcing water regulations? Who has the right to certain waters? How do we as a world, make sure that people have adequate and clean drinking supplies?

Activity: Create a *forum in your classroom about the above issues we have just covered in this lesson. If you were the country of Egypt, what steps are you going to take to address these issues: water pollution, global warming, rising population, water usage, and rising water tables? Who should help you? Do you have money to do something about these things? What do the people of Egypt want done? Are there solutions to these problems? Have different groups split up and take on an issue, use the previous articles and any outside resources you may find, to develop your statement, points to argue for/against, solutions, etc. Then begin the forum in class.

*What is a forum? A forum usually consists of a panel of knowledgeable speakers that will address a group of people. These speakers may often discuss or argue amongst themselves in front of the audience. Although questions are acceptable, it is assumed that attendees are already familiar with the topic. (Definition taken from Amnesty International)

This is the final activity in this module. Return to the curriculum, go on to Module Twenty Two or select one of the other activities in this module