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Study says quality of Nile water has improved

A map showing Lake Nasr and the River Nile's passage through Egypt.
(Wikimedia Commons)

A study has indicated that water quality in the Egyptian segment of the River Nile improved considerably in the months of October and November 2007, giving rise to hopes that drinking water quality for many of Egypt’s 80 million people may improve.

[Read this report in Arabic]

The quality of Nile water in its main course and in the Rosetta (Rashid) and Damietta (Dimyat) branches showed a 16 percent improvement over the average during the excess discharge period (in October and November when excess water in Lake Nasr behind the Aswan High Dam is discharged into the river), according to a recent study by Egypt’s Nile Research Institute (NRI) which is part the National Water Research Centre (NWRC).

“This will reflect positively on the lives of Egyptians” said Yahia Abdel Qader, head of the central unit of information, environmental awareness and training at the Ministry of Environment. “The Nile is the main source of drinking water in Egypt and improvement in its water quality means safer drinking water for Egyptians. Over 85 percent of the country’s water is consumed annually by irrigation. Hence, safe water will provide pollutant-free agricultural products and production will increase as well.”

According to the NRI study, the concentration of organic material decreased 15-69 percent in the main course of the river, dissolved salts decreased 1.5-2.0 percent, while phosphate concentration decreased 14 percent. The total water quality improved by an average of 14 percent in the main course, 9 percent in the Damietta branch and 15 percent in the Rosetta branch.

“The water was tested just after the excess discharge period which took place in October and November. Surplus water was discharged from Aswan High Dam into the river in a process called ‘Washing the Nile’. This helps decrease the concentration of pollutants like organic material, excessive salts and bacteria,” said Hussan al-Atfi of the Ministry of Irrigation.

Industrial pollution

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A study has indicated that water quality in the Egyptian segment of the River Nile has improved considerably

“This improvement also came about as a result of efforts to prevent industrial establishments from discharging their waste into the Nile,” Abdel Qader said.

“We have started the second phase of a project to control industrial pollution in the Nile. This phase will end in 2012 and aims to transfer the liquid waste of big factories from the Nile to the sewage system, after being treated according to the environment law.”

The main industrial pollutants in the Nile are pesticides, organic material, heavy metals, ammonia, nitrate and phosphate, but these pollutants are concentrated in limited areas where factories and industrial workshops discharge their liquid waste.

“We identified the sources of pollution across the Nile. We put [in place] plans and worked on maps to adjust the situation of these establishments according to set priorities. An environmental audit of factories is carried out regularly to take necessary measures against the violators,” Abdel Qader said.

Banana waste

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A panoramic view of the Aswan High Dam

According to Ithar Khalil, national project coordinator at NBI’s (Nile Basin Initiative’s) Nile Transboundary Environmental Action Project, agriculture is another source of pollution. Farmers, for example, dispose of large amounts of banana waste in water channels and drains which end up in the main Nile water course. To tackle this issue, NBI, a partnership among the riparian states of the River Nile, launched a project in 2006 to prevent pollution caused by farmers dumping the waste into the river and its tributaries, she said.

“This waste decomposes in the water and causes eutrophication which results in excessive plant growth and decay in water, thus reducing its oxygen content and hence affecting the quality of the water and its ecosystem. We are teaching the farmers how to recycle the waste to produce an organic compost,” said Ithar.

“We are working on banana waste in particular because this cultivation has a very high rate of waste generation and is very popular in Aswan and Qena where we work. The recycling takes place by decomposing the waste. It is first collected, shredded, mixed with soil, nitrate and phosphate and piled up into matrices [piles]. The waste is turned over every 15-30 days and should be ready as a compost after 90 days,” she said.

Water hyacinths

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Nile as it passes through Luxor in southern Egypt

“Water hyacinths also affect the Nile. This plant absorbs the heavy metals from the water, so in itself, it becomes a concentrated bulk of heavy metals that poisons any creature that feeds on it. In addition, the rate of evaporation of water through it is very high (estimated at 3 litre/m2/day) which makes it one of the most dangerous sources of Nile water loss,” said Ithar.

“The Ministry of Irrigation set up a special section to implement annual maintenance plans which include removing water plants to ensure that the water is running properly,” the Ministry of Irrigation’s al-Atfi said.

Treated sewage water used in irrigation

“Treated sewage water also finds its way into the Nile. We tried to solve this problem by using a large quantity of treated sewage water to irrigate forests instead of diverting it into water channels. Over 11,000 `faddans’ (about 46.2 million square metres) of land were planted with trees in 24 areas across 16 provinces for this purpose,” said Abdul Qader of the Ministry of Environment.

“This proved to be very effective especially in desert provinces. We are using now 2.4 billion cubic metres of water to irrigate these forests. Vegetation is occupying larger areas and is improving the quality of the air, too. There are also demands to increase the cultivation of jatropha trees as they are a good source of organic fuel. Planting these trees has an impact on the economy - the involvement of manpower in its cultivation and wood industry.”

Despite all these efforts, officials believe environmental awareness is more important in solving environmental problems in Egypt. “Environmental awareness is still not up to the [necessary] level. We feel awareness should begin with the people’s recognition that a problem exists,” Abdel Qader said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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