Egypt Nile Delta threat­ened by cli­mate change

Kuwait Times - - News - KAFR AL-DAWAR, Egypt:

Lush green fields blan­ket north­ern Egypt’s Nile Delta, but the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural heart­land and its vi­tal fresh­wa­ter re­sources are un­der threat from a warm­ing cli­mate. The fer­tile arc-shaped basin is home to nearly half the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, and the river that feeds it pro­vides Egypt with 90 per­cent of its wa­ter needs. But climb­ing tem­per­a­tures and drought are dry­ing up the mighty Nile - a prob­lem com­pounded by ris­ing seas and soil salin­iza­tion, ex­perts and farm­ers say.

Com­bined, they could jeop­ar­dize crops in the Arab world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try, where the food needs of its 98 mil­lion res­i­dents are only ex­pected to in­crease. “The Nile is shrink­ing. The wa­ter doesn’t reach us any­more,” says Talaat Al-Sisi, a farmer who has grown wheat, corn and other crops for 30 years in the south­ern Delta gov­er­norate of Menoufia. “We’ve been forced to tap into the ground­wa­ter and we’ve stopped grow­ing rice,” a ce­real known for its greedy wa­ter con­sump­tion, he adds.

By 2050, the re­gion could lose up to 15 per­cent of its key agri­cul­tural land due to salin­iza­tion, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study pub­lished by Egyp­tian economists. The yield of tomato crops could drop by 50 per­cent, the study said, with sta­ple ce­re­als like wheat and rice fall­ing 18 and 11 per­cent re­spec­tively.

In Kafr al-Dawar in the delta’s north, Egypt’s ir­ri­gation min­istry and the United Na­tions are work­ing on eco-friendly tech­niques like so­lar-pow­ered wa­ter­ing that ex­perts say emit less green­house gases and could help im­prove crop yields. On site, two farm­ers wear­ing tra­di­tional gal­abiya gowns show off shiny new so­lar pan­els framed by row af­ter row of corn, bar­ley and wheat. Sayed Soli­man, eyes bright and cane in hand, runs a group of about 100 farm­ers who work a plot of more than 100 hectares.

The sea­soned farmer is de­lighted. He can now power the pumps that wa­ter his field with­out re­ly­ing on Egypt’s faulty elec­tric­ity grid and ex­pen­sive fos­sil fu­els like diesel that are re­spon­si­ble for cli­mate change. Diesel-pow­ered gen­er­a­tors are now only used “when nec­es­sary”, he says, such as af­ter sun­set. Af­ter his suc­cess, a neigh­bour­ing vil­lage is also switch­ing to so­lar-pow­ered ir­ri­gation. “One of the pri­or­i­ties is in­no­va­tion... so that Egypt can make the most of its wa­ter,” says Hus­sein Gadain, the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Egypt. “The delta plays an im­por­tant role in the coun­try’s food se­cu­rity.”

Ibrahim Mah­moud, head of the ir­ri­gation min­istry’s devel­op­ment projects, said plans were in place to mod­ern­ize wa­ter­ing sys­tems across the coun­try by 2050. The strat­egy, he says, is in­tended to im­prove farm­ers’ “en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, stan­dards of liv­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity”. But in a coun­try in the tight grip of Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Al-Sisi, the Nile Delta and its re­sources re­main an ul­tra­sen­si­tive topic. AFP’s visit to Kafr al-Dawar was closely su­per­vised by the min­istry.

In front of of­fi­cials, farm­ers stuck to well-worn talk­ing points about the delta’s bounty but po­litely skirted ques­tions on wa­ter scarcity. Sisi has made the Nile’s wa­ter a “life or death is­sue” for Egypt, par­tic­u­larly in the frame­work of ne­go­ti­a­tions with neigh­bor­ing Su­dan, as well as Ethiopia. Cairo fears Ad­dis Ababa’s con­tro­ver­sial Grand Re­nais­sance Dam will bring con­se­quences down­stream. — AFP

KAFR AL-DAWAR, Egypt: Farm­ers ob­serve wa­ter pump­ing in this vil­lage in north­ern Egypt’s Nile Delta on Nov 26, 2018. — AFP

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