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Tuesday, June 2

What do these water issues in Egypt, Iran, Gaza have to do with climate change?

“Dumping waste into the river does not mean that the water has become toxic.” 

People walk across a bridge, surrounded by litter and waste, across a canal connected to the Nile River in Cairo, on World Water Day, March 22, 2015.  (photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

(Emphasis throughout mine)

Egypt Nile water pollution on the rise
by Ayah Aman
May 22, 2015
Al-Monitor - Egypt Pulse

CAIRO — An intensive media and political momentum is taking place in Egypt in regard to the conflict with Nile headwaters countries over securing Egypt’s annual share of the Nile waters. At the same time, the pollution of the Nile River remains a pending issue that is being underscored in Egypt with every water poisoning incident caused by the dumping of hazardous waste in the river. The debate usually ends when the government reassures the public, and emphasizes that the water is safe and suitable for human consumption, without establishing long-term policies to resolve the crisis.
Kareem Khaled, a water-quality researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen, spoke to Al-Monitor about the water quality in Egypt. He said, “The absence of a single administrative body in charge of water management and quality improvement from the High Dam to the riverbed, and up to the point where it [water] is delivered to people's homes, is the reason behind water pollution in Egypt.”

Khaled added, “The state of the Nile water still needs to be precisely and scientifically defined, and we need to find out what pollutants are in the water. The river is subject to all forms of pollution, the most dangerous of which is the untreated, solid industrial waste, which is causing an accumulation of heavy metals in the aquaculture and drinking water, and therefore causes many health problems.”
Based on the findings of the studies he conducted, Khaled said, “The most dangerous pollution rates are found in Egypt’s Delta region. In most of the Delta villages there is high population density and weak sanitation services — or lack thereof. The use of untreated water for irrigation is another threat affecting the quality of agricultural products.”
Although officials in charge of drinking water in Egypt say the water is safe and suitable for human consumption, based on their analyses of the quality of the drinking water, media reports indicate that water poisoning incidents continue to exist because of polluted drinking water.
The water samples are often taken right from the exit pipes of the drinking water stations. Yet the water may get polluted while being delivered to homes because of the deteriorated water distribution networks and pumping stations. Water chlorination is used by some drinking stations to kill the harmful bacteria. This process, however, causes health problems,” Khaled said.
The negative impact that the deterioration of the water quality has is not only limited to citizens’ health. Fish die in large numbers from poisoning because of the high levels of ammonia and lead, as happened in January in the Rosetta branch in the Nile Delta.
The minister of the environment, Khaled Fahmy, told Al-Monitor, “The government is adopting strict measures and penalties to prevent hazardous materials and pollutants from being dumped or leaking into the Nile.” He said, “The Nile water is completely safe and factories are subject to periodic inspections to make sure that the water is treated before being dumped into the river. We have started to take measures to review the river’s water transport system and identify the hazardous materials that cannot be transported across the river.”
He added, “Dumping waste into the river does not mean that the water has become toxic.” He justified this statement by saying, “The industrial waste dumped into the Nile is not directly delivered to the drinking water stations. The Nile has the ability to break up and disperse the pollutants.”
Fahmy admitted that the Nile water pollution problem “is still complex and has been going on for over 30 years. The state is trying to find solutions to improve the river water quality.”
The water pollution issue remains unresolved, at a time when Egypt does not have sufficient water resources. Technical reports conducted by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights indicate that Egypt may become a water-scarce country by 2025, particularly since it consumes far more water than it can replenish. In addition to other problems that weigh down on the country — such as population density and the dilapidated pipe network, which alone is behind 35% of wasted water every year — Egypt is the world's largest wheat importer, because there is not enough water to grow the crops locally.

Iran's water crisis reaches critical levels
by Bijan Khajehpour
May 1, 2015
Al-Monitor - Iran Pluse

Al-Monitor reported in May 2014 that Iran faced an unprecedented water shortage, and now, a year later, the crisis has deteriorated to the point of raising the alarm that a large number of Iranians might be forced to migrate, including externally, to access water if workable solutions are not found in the next few years. Addressing this critical issue will require Iranian authorities to make crucial strategic decisions.

To appreciate the depth of the crisis, one can start with a closer look at statements by Issa Kalantari, adviser to Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former minister of agriculture and head of the task force addressing the Urmia Lake crisis. Kalantari addressed a group of experts and reporters April 25 to highlight the various aspects of the ongoing disaster. He charged the country’s politicians with being in denial of the true dimensions of the water crisis and outlined some of the key issues:
  • Iran's self-inflicted water shortage stems from its exploiting 97% of its surface waters. The international benchmark for surface water use is 40%, which by comparison points to the magnitude of water mismanagement in Iran.
  • The push for agricultural self-sufficiency in the past led to over-consumption of water reserves, which in turn undermined development. According to Kalantari, a number of political stakeholders dismissed sustainable development as a Western concept lacking utility in Iran.
  • Dam building, once considered a sign of progress, dried up the nation's rivers and other waterways through poorly conceived projects.
  • Iran must almost halve its annual water consumption, that is, reduce it from the current 96 billion cubic meters to 56 billion. Such an effort will require up to $8 billion in investments and include major rethinking about agriculture to halve consumption in that sector.
  • The government needs to aggressively promote a new attitude toward water to reduce consumption and replenish renewable resources.
Recent analyses reveal that seven of the country’s 32 provinces are classified as experiencing “water shortage” while 13 face a “critical water situation.” According to the same analyses, none of the provinces — including in the Caspian Sea region, which enjoys vast water resources — can be categorized as having sufficient water basins. As such, water management has become the top priority for the government.
Gaza’s high population strains water supply
by Mohammed Othman
May 31, 2015
Al-Monitor - Palestine Pulse

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Fethiya Deeb lives in al-Shati refugee camp west of Gaza City and complains about the high salinity of the water that comes to her home from the wells, which are run by the Gaza City municipality. Deeb told Al-Monitor that she and her 17-member family "need a large amount of water on a daily basis. All we receive is salty water that is similar to seawater. We cannot use it for a lot of things. So we are forced to buy our potable water." 

Gaza Strip residents suffer from poor quality of household water. Mazen al-Banna, an engineer and vice president of the Palestinian Water Authority in the Gaza Strip, said Gaza's water situation is difficult due to limited water sources and the small land area of Gaza, about 365 square kilometers (141 square miles). Gaza represents less than 1.4% of the area of ​​Palestine, but is home to 2 million people, or 17% of the Palestinian population.
“Many sectors in Gaza, including water, land, agriculture, air and other environmental elements, are being drained," Banna told Al-Monitor. "The people’s consumption is large, and the size of the population does not match what is available from these natural elements and resources.”
Aquifers are Gaza's primary water source, according to [Mazen al-Banna, an engineer and vice president of the Palestinian Water Authority in the Gaza Strip], and provide for 98% of public consumption. 

“The second source of water is the Israeli national water company, known as Mekorot, which provides the Gaza Strip with 5 million cubic meters per year, paid for by the Palestinian Authority," Banna said. "This amount reaches the eastern areas of Khan Yunis and the central areas, as aquifers in some of these areas either don’t exist or are salty, and thus not suitable for direct use.”
Gaza's limited sources of water and the pollution of available sources have led to a decrease in the daily water allotments provided to Gaza residents. Ahmed Hillis, a water sector researcher, said individual Gaza residents are receiving less than the amount recommended by the World Health Organization to remain healthy.
“This severe shortage has steadily worsened over the past few years as a result of the increasing population [and not] seriously developing the water and sanitation sectors," Hillis said. 
"[This] has caused another major problem: deterioration in the [water] quality, as seawater is entering the aquifers as a result of aquifers being overdrawn. The Gaza Strip has more than 6,000 wells, most of which are unlicensed. … The aquifers have been contaminated by the entry of wastewater as a result of the infrastructure being worn out or destroyed during the wars, the absence of comprehensive development, the citizens digging soakwells and many farmers excessively using chemicals to fertilize the soil or to [exterminate] agricultural pests. [The chemicals] end up seeping into the aquifers.”
Water pollution and aquifer depletion have made potable water scarce in the Gaza Strip.
Munther Shiblak, general director of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said that 97% of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption and that aquifers produce no more than 55 million cubic meters per year. “Gaza needs an estimated 180 million cubic meters [146,000 acre-feet] a year for domestic and agricultural uses," he said. "The annual deficit is about 100 million cubic meters. The lack of water in the aquifers is causing a phenomenon whereby seawater seeps into the usable aquifer water and increases the water’s salinity. The wells near the coast are witnessing a significant rise in their chloride content — about 1,500 milligrams per liter in some cases. It should not exceed 250 milligrams per liter.”
Shiblak said that untreated sewage and the improper use of pesticides are major causes of increased pollution. “The nitrate level must be between 50 to 70 milligrams per liter according to international standards. But in the Gaza Strip, it reaches five times this level,” he said.
The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, according to Shiblak, is responsible for finding water sources for Gaza’s population and is currently trying to find alternative water sources. “Seawater desalination is being considered," he said. "A plant for this purpose was established in 2003 to supply the population in the central area of ​​the Gaza Strip, funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation. [The plant’s] production capacity expanded from 600 to 2,600 cubic meters a day at the beginning of 2013 following a grant from the Islamic Development Bank. We are looking for additional funding to reach a production capacity of 5,000 cubic meters a day.”
A number of seawater desalination projects are in the works for several towns in the Gaza Strip and are expected to be functioning next year to serve hundreds of thousands of citizens. But, according to Shiblak, these projects will be held hostage to the general political and living conditions.
“Not all projects will be completed given the current political situation and power outages. Power is a key factor for the operation of these plants,” he said.
Gaza's options for potable water remain limited given the significant deterioration in its water situation. New options for water sources are subject to several factors, including international funding, internal politics and whether the water utility is active or not.

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