“It’s becoming so hard these days. I only managed to get a few fish yesterday,” said Galal Saed, 35, casting his net into the Nile near the town of Hawamdia, 25km south of Cairo.
Saed said he usually catches 2kg of fish a day which allows him to earn the equivalent of about US$165 a month, but over the past few months he has had an additional headache: his net needs replacing not every month as in the past but every few days, costing him up to $144 a month.
Some environmental activists believe factories along the Nile are to blame: Toxic effluent harmful to both fish and humans is also damaging fishing nets, they say.
According to the World Bank, pollution in the Nile is caused primarily by urban wastewater discharges and industrial effluent.
A 2009 Environment Ministry report said 129 industrial facilities and 300 floating hotels are pumping chemical and other waste into the Nile.
“We’ve destroyed our lakes and polluted the Nile,” said Mohamed el-Fikky, chairman of the Cooperative Association for Water Resources (CAWR), a local NGO campaigning for the rights of fishermen and the protection of marine life.
“Many fishermen have either left their jobs altogether or migrated,” el-Fikky said.
There are about 210,000 fishermen in Egypt and around two million people work in the fishing or fish processing industry, according to CAWR.
Poor water quality was affecting people's health, agricultural productivity and fisheries, and was costing the country 1.8 percent of national gross domestic product, the World Bank report said.
A recent study commissioned by the independent daily newspaper el-Masri el-Youm found concentrations of harmful materials like phenol (carbolic acid), cyanide, ammonia and nickel were higher than national and international permissible standards.
Other studies have also indicated high levels of toxins in the river, but government officials dismiss them: “Reports about water pollution are not correct,” said Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali.
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