Review Article

Water Issue in Egypt: Resources, Pollution and Protection Endeavors

Hussein I. Abdel-Shafy1 and Raouf O. Aly2

1 Water Research and Pollution Control Department, National Research Center, Dokki, Cairo, Egypt
2 Polymer Chemistry Department, National Center for Radiation Research and Technology, Cairo, Egypt

Corresponding author: Prof. Hussein I. Abdel-Shafy
    Water Research and Pollution Control Department
    National Research Center
    Tahreer Street
    Dokki, Cairo, Egypt
    E-mail address:

CEJOEM 2002, Vol.8. No.1.:3–21

Key words:
Water resources, water pollution, water protection, river Nile

Management of water quality, control of water pollution and environmental protection are major issues to preserve living conditions for the future. Egypt has been listed among the ten countries that are threatened by want of water by the year 2025 due to the rapidly increasing population. About 97% of Egypt's water resources are from the river Nile. The rest is from winter rain and non-renewable ground water aquifers. Industrial wastes are considered the major source of pollution in Egypt. About 350 industries are discharging their sewage-water either directly into the Nile or through the municipal system. There are about 1250 industrial plants located in Alexandria (about 60% of them are responsible for marine pollution of the Mediterranean coast of Alexandria) that discharge their wastewater into the sea via Lake Marriott. About 90% of the rural population have no access to sewer systems or wastewater treatment facilities and they mostly depend on the on-site disposal of wastewater “septic tank”. Therefore, the high level of groundwater table seriously affects the infiltration and predisposes the shallow groundwater to pollution. In the delta region, drainage water is reused for irrigation after mixing with Nile water, while in Upper Egypt drainage water is disposed into the river Nile. The use of fertilizers and pesticides has significantly increased after the construction of High Dam. The result is weed flourishing which increases evapotranspiration, blocks the waterways, and provides habitats for Bilharzia snails.
    The present study discusses the water issue in terms of water quality and man-made water pollution problems in Egypt. Water pollution control, management and protection to stretch our water budget via simple processes and to ensure the availability of water for various purposes are also goals of this study.


Our survival as a species mainly depends on how we manage and use the environment today. If we do well, the quality of life will improve, if not, disaster awaits us. Answers to most questions we face depend on understanding many environmental disciplines. Water can be considered as the most important natural resource that can be utilized by man to develop his prosperity as well as his essential needs. Water quality management, water pollution control and environmental protection are the main issues to save our future. The total quantity of water on the earth is about 13.2 ´ 109 km3, 97% of it is marine water, the freshwater is only 2.7%. Of the latter, 90% is either frozen in the North and South Poles or very deep groundwater at a depth of more than 700 m. Thus, they are not available to man. The total amount of water in all the world rivers are about 48.000 km3, humans use less than 4.000 km3/yr, only. It was estimated that if we could possibly use 1% more out of our freshwater, we should be able to cultivate all the deserts and the arid and semi-arid land on the earth that cover 41% of the total land. Thus, we should not have any food deficiency on the earth. It is worth mentioning that the amount of groundwater in the world is estimated to be about 22 million km3. In a survey of world freshwater, it has been reported that Egypt is among the ten countries to be scarce of water by the year 2025 due to the rapidly increasing population (Engelman and Le Roy, 1993), at present about 67.7 million inhabitants. As a matter of fact, the full control of the river consistently safeguards Egypt against draught and heavy floods.
      For the time being, deteriorating water quality is a serious threat in countries with a scarcity of water resources. It does not only diminish the country’s chance to sustainable development but it also threatens public health with spreading infectious diseases. Water-related diseases are the most common causes of infants’ mortality in the developing countries.


Nile water

According to an agreement between Egypt and Sudan (1959) the Nile water budget is 18.5 ´ 109 m3 to Sudan and 55.5 ´ 109 m3 to Egypt (Dijkman, 1993). Nile water comprises about 97% of the renewable water supplies in Egypt. Table 1 demonstrates the water supplies and demands in Egypt. The total cultivated area in Egypt is less than 4%. The sources of Egyptian Nile water supplies are in the Ethiopian (83%) and Equatorial Plateaus (17%). The yield of the former can be divided as follows: 13%, 58% and 12% from Subat, Blue Nile and Otbara River, respectively. In case of the latter, it is amazing that of its huge resources (about 110 ´ 109 m3/yr) only 30 ´ 109 m3/yr reach the Victoria Nile branch. The rest is mainly lost by evaporation. The total amount of water collected south of Sudan (33 ´ 109 m3/yr) spreads over the giant 700 km2 swamps. These swamps receive water from Bahr-El-Ghazal as well as from Bahr-El-Arab. The former is extended over more than 160 km to Lake Nu. The output to the White Nile is only 15 ´ 109 m3/yr. That is why the construction of Gunglie Canal can ensure the supply to Egypt as well as North Sudan in an amount of a few milliard cubic meters of water originally lost by evaporation along the big distance. Hence, the cooperation between the Nile valley countries is essential to protect such a vital source of water (Hagras, 1988; Said, 1993).

Table 1. Water supplies and demands in Egypt (109 m3/yr)

I. Water supplies




Nile water
      In the Delta and New Valley
      In the desert
Reuse of agricultural drainage water
Treated sewage water
Management and saving wasted water













II. Water demands








* After the Gungli Canal
Based on Abdel-Dayem (1994) and El-Kassas (1998).


(1)  The major groundwater aquifers (Table 1) stretch in the western desert and Sinai, beneath and west of the Delta (Natroun Valley and Cairo-Alexandria desert road), Salheyia, beneath Upper Egypt (Engelman and Le Roy, 1993). This water is renewable because it originates from the leakage of Nile and drainage waters. The percolation of excess irrigation water and extraction of groundwater in the rest sectors of the Delta largely govern the process (Abdel-Dayem, 1994). Seawater intrusion along the northern sector of the Delta aquifer renders it nearly saline. The top layer is fresh over the saline water. Therefore, overconsumption of such water affects its quality and salinity. On the other hand, fresh water within the northern frontiers of the Delta plays an important role in safeguarding the region against Mediterranean Sea saline water. Rice cultivation within the northern sector plays an effective role in protecting fresh groundwater (Chapman, 1992). The quality of groundwater is so far evaluated on an intermittent basis, predicting signs of pollution within a 30-meter depth (Abdel-Dayem, 1994).
(2) There are some geological formations within the Egyptian desert that carry groundwater. Among the most important geological layers is the Nobian limestone in the western desert that supplies the New Valley’s Oasis. The water in a layer is in the depth of only 60–100 m around the area of East-Oweinat. The Dakhla, Kharga and Siwa Oases are within similar geological formations, but the water is usually at variable depths. It is worth mentioning that these groundwaters are of non-renewable fossil origin. Thus, bearing in mind the rights of next generations, optimizing their use in an economic way is very important.


Within the western part from Alexandria city to El-Sallum, the northern coast receives a modest amount of winter rainfalls with a mean level of 150 mm/yr. It diminishes to 100 mm/yr to the east in El-Arish region then rises up again to 250 mm/yr eastern of El-Arish at Rafah, northeast Sinai. The water available is merely sufficient for pastoral purposes, to some extent for seasonal agriculture (barley) especially in excessively rainy years, for cultivating some olive and fig in the western and peach in the eastern zones.
      Coastal sand dunes and valley sediments that receive rainfall accommodate shallow wells for drinking water. In Sinai, some reservoirs have been constructed to collect heavy rainfalls in the valleys.


Considering the drinking water resources, the individual’s expenditure in Egypt was around 1000 m3/yr at a population size of 58 million. By the year 2000 it decreased to 957 m3/yr which can be divided as 7% and 93% for the domestic use and the industrial and agricultural uses, respectively. Compared to the minimum demand required per individual (1300 m3) it can be seen that Egypt is far below that level. It is worth mentioning that the per capita water income in the USA, India, China, and the international level are 10.000, 2.430, 2.520, and 2.500 m3, respectively. Thus, it can be concluded that the Egyptian water expenditure is about 38% of the international level. Table 2 shows the degradation of the water share per capita over the period of a century.
      To regulate the Nile flow to the Delta, the construction of El-Quanatir Barrages was started in 1843 and was completed in 1861. The purpose was to increase the agricultural area and the full use of all the available water. The system of continuous irrigation was achieved by the year 1890 throughout the Delta (El-Nobergy, 1993). Further ambitious progress was made by constructing the Aswan High Dam, which was completed in 1970 creating the largest artificial lake in the world. cshows the high dam storage capacity. The advantages of this gigantic project can be summarized as follows:
–   reclamation of 336.1 ´ 103 ha during the 1960’s, and 415.5 ´ 103 ha during the 1980’s, most of them in Upper Egypt;
production of 1010 kW/yr of electric power (about 53% of the energy produced in 1977);
protection of Egypt from high floods threatening the country in some years;
regulation and prevention of unnecessary loss of water which is limited and determined by a treaty between Egypt and Sudan; and
full control of Nile in Lower Egypt.

Table 2. Degradation of the yearly water share per capita over a century


Water quantity per capita

Crop area/capita (m2)

Cultivated land area per capita (m2)


Table 3. High Dam storage capacities (109 m3)

Facultative storage capacity


Dead storage capacity (silting mud)


Vital storage capacity


Storage capacity specified for excessive floods


Length of the storage lake (m)



Industrial activities

Although industrialization is considered the cornerstone of the development strategies due to its significant contribution to the economic growth and hence human welfare, however, in most developing countries it led to serious environmental degradation. The earnest intentions are now not only targeting the qualitative and quantitative treatment of the industrial wastes but also attempting to avert their hazards to human health and restoring the quality of the environment.
      By the beginning of fifties, heavy industries were born in Egypt along the Nile Delta and in Cairo and Alexandria metropolitan areas. Chemicals, food, metal products, and textiles are the most prominent branches in Egypt (Hamza and Gallup, 1982). Undoubtedly, the impact of industrial pollution in Egypt appears in all environmental media: air, water, and land. Industrial releases to surface or groundwater are considered the major chemical threat to the agricultural land. The worst industrial waste liquids are those heavily laden with organic or heavy metals or with corrosive, toxic or microbially loaded substances. Such waters endanger public health through the direct use as well as through feeding with fish that live in the polluted streams (Abdel-Dayem, 1994).
      In Egypt, food industry uses the largest volumes of water. Several studies revealed that untreated industrial wastes of more than 350 factories were discharged directly into the Nile and the Mediterranean, most of them released explicitly known toxic and hazardous chemicals such as detergents, heavy metals and pesticides (RNPD, 1989). Waterways used to receive about 85% of the industrial water withdrawals back. In addition, the Nile and its waterways currently suffer from the discharge of contaminated agricultural wastewater. The discharge of oil and grease originates from navigation and untreated domestic wastewater (Abdel-Shafy et al., 1987). Some groups of chemicals, such as carcinogenics, mutagenics and neurotoxins, are even unaffected by the usual methods of water treatment. The threats imposed by chemical discharges comprise contamination of drinking water supplies, phyto- and aquatic toxicity, destruction of agriculture as well as fisheries, bioaccumulation, and biotransformation (El-Kholy, 1993).
      Some spectacular threats to water resources and land are now quite obvious, e.g., in Helwan (south of Cairo): air pollution with cement dust, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, and other airborne pollutants resulted in the death of almost all the trees (Hindy et al., 1990). The industrial wastewater discharged from Helwan area amounts to some 45 million m3/yr (RNPD, 1989).
      In Shoubra El Khaima (north of Cairo) huge volumes of untreated industrial wastewater are daily discharged into agricultural drains. The textile industries representing 48.3% of the total number of industrial plants are the main contributors (almost 52%) to organic load. Table 4 shows the distribution of organic load among the various industrial sectors (El-Gohary, 1994).
      The metropolitan area of Alexandria accommodates a multitude of industries in the vicinity of surface waters, e.g., in Amiria at the Lake Marriott, near the Mahmoudia Canal, etc. Out of 1243 industrial plants 57 were identified as major sources of marine pollution either directly or indirectly via Lake Marriott. Paper, textile and food industries contribute 79% of the total organic load (Hamza, 1983).
      As it might be expected, the mid-stream conditions of the Nile are still, on an average, at a fairly clean level owing to dilution and degradation of the pollutants discharged. The riverbanks, however, are much more polluted (El-Gohary, 1994).
      Inefficient production in some industries (e.g., oil and soap) generates waste that contains raw material as well as products, a costly burden to the national economy and the consumer (Abou-Elela and Zaher, 1998). Evidently, efficient production causes lesser pollution. Cleaner production is defined by UNEP's Industry and Environment Program Activity Center as “the continuous application of an integrated preventive environmental strategy to processes and products to reduce risks to humans and the environment” (Weston Inc. and Lambert, 1990). Obviously, cleaner production is the unique answer for the industrial pollution in Egypt.

Table 4. Organic load contributed by the various industrial sectors in Shoubra El-Khaima

Type of









(kg /day)









(kg /day)









Based on El-Gohary (1994)
COD: Chemical Oxygen Demands as organic load
BOD5: Biological Oxygen Demands (5-day test) as organic load

Sewage, domestic and rural wastewater

Despite the relatively limited water expenditure, the way of consumption leads to losses exceeding 30 ´ 109 m3, i.e., to an efficiency less than 50%. Losses are distributed in several ways as shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Distribution of Nile water lost in Egypt (109 m3)




Amount of water input (behind Aswan High Dam)



Vegetal consumption by evaporation



Wastes poured into the sea for coastal protection



Domestic and urban wastes



Wastes poured into the sea by electricity generation and navigation






Redundancy for reclaiming arid land



      In the rural areas accommodating about half of the population (35 million persons), 95% of the people have no access to sewer systems or wastewater treatment facilities. The “septic tank” is the most common disposal facility where excreta and a limited amount of sludge water can be collected for biological digestion. The digested excreta leach into the soil surrounding the tank and hence subject shallow groundwater to pollution.
      The alarming increase in the discharge rates of municipal and domestic wastes rendered the occasional primary treatment of urban sewage even insufficient to prevent further deterioration of vital water streams (Parker, 1987). Furthermore, secondary treatment cannot be satisfactory in emphasizing the quality of wastewater for reuse or in preventing further pollution with pathogenic bacteria and other microorganisms (Cairncross, 1989). In the Nile delta, Bahr-El-Baqar is a paradigm of highly polluted waterways. As such, mixing drainage water with the freshwater for irrigation purposes makes the use of this water risky for public health.
      Admittedly, the unused drainage water led into the lakes and the sea transfers its pollution burden to the coastal and marine ecosystems. Typhoid, paratyphoid, infectious hepatitis, and infant diarrhea are some endemic diseases indicating deterioration of water quality in Egypt. Despite the assiduous endeavours for public awareness through the media, the prevalence of Bilharzia substantiates the lack of rural sanitation against the traditional contamination of surface waters with human wastes, i.e., urine and faeces.

Agricultural activities

The nutritional needs and the spread of unemployment due to the high population growth in Egypt imposed major challenges to the agricultural policy over decades. Therefore, the construction of Aswan High Dam was a must. Actually, a program of around 0.21 million hectares land reclamation was implemented (Goueli, 1991). The transformation of basin irrigation land to permanent irrigation and the shift of the sowing season of maize and rice amounted the rate of growth in agricultural production to almost 4% (Goueli, 1991). The intensive use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides was essential for the exploitation of the available land. And the total irrigated area has become about 3.11 million hectares. The agricultural and cultivated areas as well as the percentage of cultivation before and after the construction of the High-Dam are given in Table 6. Part of the used fertilizers is usually drained into the surface and groundwater systems along the Nile. The use of these sources for drinking water supply is at risk due to the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus salts (Walsh, 1991). The increased load of silt-free Nile water by nutrients from fertilizers due to evapotranspiration blocks waterways and provides habitat to the Bilharzia snails. Furthermore, the heavy implementation of pesticides, as in the case of cotton crop, poses serious environmental risk. Some pesticide residues were found in canals and drains, however, their concentration was far below the guidelines set by WHO (Abdel-Dayem and Abdel-Ghani, 1992).
      The cultivated area is covered with networks of irrigation canals (about 30,310 km) and of field drains and collectors (about 17,200 km of the main drainage system). In Egypt, the annual watering balance reckons with incomes of 45.5 ´ 109 and 6.5 ´ 109 m3/yr to the old conventional and reclaimed lands, respectively, and with outputs of 35 ´ 109 and 17 ´ 109 m3/yr via vegetal consumption and waste into the drainage network, respectively. In the downstream direction the water quality gradually deteriorates due to the poorly treated wastewater discharges from both domestic and industrial activities and uncontrolled mixing with water from polluted drains. Therefore, they contain high levels of various pollutants, such as faecal bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides. Some drains should be considered as open sewage system that smell badly due to the production of hydrosulfide.

Table 6. Agricultural and cultivated areas and percentage of cultivation


Agricultural area*
103 ha

Cultivation area**
103 ha

% Cultivation


Based on El-Nobergy (1993)
*   Land area available for agricultural purpose (i.e., crop production)
** The total agricultural area used for crop production in several seasons per year


Although agricultural, industrial and human needs essentially depend on the availability of freshwater, yet the present networks allow eventual mixing up of almost all agricultural and agrochemical drains as well as industrial and domestic wastes. Actually, the burden is too heavy to be tackled by the present water treatment plants. Accordingly, the agricultural network, irrigation and river systems do heavily suffer from excessive water wastes along their passage up to the northern lakes and seacoast. This problem imposes hazardous effects on the health of the rural people beside its vigorous impacts on the national economy. The current top concerns of wastewater management are (Gaber, 1994): (1) effluent quality as its standards has become stricter and stricter over the years; (2) noise and odour nuisance control, as urban expansion has pushed built-up areas out to the doorstep of many once-remote treatment plants (e.g., gigantic treatment plant Al-Gabal Al-Asfar in Cairo); (3) disposal of sludge as a fertilizer in agriculture or as an ingredient of compost due to its content of phosphate, nitrogen, and organic matter, which is, however, made almost impossible by the presence of non-degradable heavy metals; and (4) the high cost.


A powerful monitoring program is needed to provide reliable information about the current water quality. It is important to carry on the followings: trend analysis, determining compliance of discharges with standards, locating discharges that are not licensed or that violate licensed conditions, identifying the nature and extent of specific pollution problems, and deciding whether a suspected problem exists or not. A water quality impact assessment was carried out in 1990/1991 by a group of Egyptian and international experts (Welsh and Mancy, 1992). The water quality of the Aswan High Dam Reservoir (5000 km2 and 164 ´ 109 m3) was deemed good (total dissolved solids: TDS<200 ppm). However, due to its depth and seasonal variation in temperature, thermal stratification results in low levels of dissolved oxygen. Excessive organic load would likely increase biological productivity and it decreases the oxygen levels (Abdel-Dayem, 1994). The quality of the river below Aswan has reflected the uniform quality of stored water both seasonally and from year to year since the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The TDS level in the Nile gradually increases from 150 ppm at Aswan to 250 ppm near Cairo. The oxygen concentration recovers as a result of atmospheric reaeration and increases from 4 ppm at Aswan to 9–10 ppm at 200 km downstream Aswan. The inputs of sewage along the river reduce the oxygen content especially in the vicinity of big cities (Abdel-Dayem, 1994).
      In industrial waste discharges, particularly, these of sugar mills and sewage of major cities, the high biological oxygen demand of organic contamination causes reduction in dissolved oxygen in the immediate downstream. The oxygen content near Grand Cairo is 1–3 ppm (Kelly and Welsh, 1992). Some heavy metals were also predicted, implying chromium near Assiut in Upper Egypt. Bacterial contamination as faecal and total coliform bacteria concentration was found high around Kafr-El-Zayat in Lower (North) Egypt. The most probable number (MPN) of faecal coliform peak up to 5000/100 ml or more downstream from major municipal waste discharges and decline to levels of 200–1000 MPN/100 ml in intervening reaches. Navigation activities on the Nile are diverse, commercial and public transportation. River fleet, some 9000 units, contributes to pollution by oil and grease and occasionally by municipal wastewater.


The agricultural drainage water collectively forms about 17 ´ 109 m3 which can be helpful in land reclamation over the next two decades. Of this figure, 11 ´ 109 m3 is the net output into the sea, as 2.5 ´ 109 and 3.5 ´ 109 m3/yr are reused by pumping from the land residues and drainage network, respectively. The El-Salam canal (in Sinai), which is considered as one the most outstanding irrigation enterprises will be fed with a mixture of both agricultural drainage water and Nile freshwater to cultivate large areas in northern Sinai, Sahl El-Tina and the surroundings till El-Arish. Nevertheless, it is truly awful to expose the potential crops to the residues of pesticides, fertilizers and industrial wastes of various chemical pollutants. It is once again a sort of spoiling a valuable economic resource by means of pollution.


The most important resources of fishing in Egypt are the northern lakes: El-Manzalah, El-Borollos, Edko, and Mariut into which polluted water streams are discharged. The aquatic microorganisms accumulate pollutants at higher levels than fish. Hence, humans may eventually concentrate water pollutants in their bodies. It is, therefore, pretty fair to prohibit fishing in Mariut Lake at once. Fish pollution should also regularly be monitored in the lakes. For example, El-Manzalah Lake is subjected to particular hazards as it receives the huge amounts of wastewater of Bahr-El-Baquar and Bahr-Hadous. This wastewater originates in the worse industrial areas in Cairo and Shoubra-El-Kheima, northern Cairo. It is noted that El-Bardaweel Lake, northern Sinai, is still free of pollutants. Therefore, exportation of lake fish is conveniently going on.

Impact of pollution

The above-mentioned aspects manifest that water pollution affects not only public health but also the economic factors relevant to water quality and natural resources of reusable waters. Based on this concept, in Egypt an appropriate law was issued for the protection of irrigating and drained waters from pollution. However, several obstacles largely hinder, so far, the optimal and effective acting of the law. In this context two problems can be noted:
(1)   The existing change in water quality as a result of pollution. The river Nile and the co-ordinated canals receive enormous amounts of biological and chemical pollutants. Before constructing the developed controlling system, assimilation of the river was possible within the period of the yearly flood. Hence, the Egyptian new regulation ought to restore the healthy state of the river in terms of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. Ironically, all respectably taken measures failed in accomplishing the objectives and the studies undertaken confirmed the continuous deterioration of water quality all over the network of irrigation.
(2) Impact of water pollution on processes of water treatment. Due to the alteration that occurred in the quality of river Nile and its canals, the conventional processes to treat drinking water by means of the currently implemented designs desperately fail in removing several biological and chemical pollutants.


The current national plan for wastewater treatment, though highly expensive and ambitious, yet, fails in encountering the pressing environmental burdens. This is particularly true in the cities of complex industries, e.g., 10th of Ramadan, northern Cairo. Primary treatment is always insufficient to accomplish the objective for clean environment (Cairncross, 1989). Thus, it is important to adapt inexpensive and simple technology systems regardless to their large area requirement, particularly for sewage treatment (i.e., artificial wetlands and gravel bed hydroponics). The water treatment plants have got to face the following problems that largely affect the quality of water produced:
(a)   The relatively high levels of alum dose and the relevant problems in terms of aluminum residues in water and the duly high expenses of water produced.
(b) The relatively high levels of added chlorine to raw water (prechlorination) to reduce total counts of bacteria and fungi and similarly the added chlorine to the filtered water (postchlorination). The high level of bacteria is ascribed to the drained sewage, which leads also to growth of fungi and to increased amounts of nitrogenous and phosphorous salts. As the dose of chlorine increases, it leads to increased concentration of organochlorinated compounds that are known as carcinogenic and mutagenic. Therefore, the well-known trend to replace chlorination by ozonation for disinfection is actively suggested.
(c) The currently implemented processes of water treatment are inefficient in removing residues of pesticides and organochlorinated pollutants. Furthermore, they are also insufficient in removing parasites, viruses, and other non-parasitic microorganisms. As a result, these residues of chemical and biological pollutants may persistently remain in drinking water.
(d) The growing levels of biological and chemical pollutants in raw water impose heavy burden on the efficiency of sand filters leading to blockages and development of microbial colonies, such as Nematode larvae which may eventually be present in drinking water.

      Other difficulties are related to the drinking water distribution system, such as the ageing of some networks, leakage to groundwater and sewer systems, deterioration of municipal and buildings’ water reservoirs, and the chlorinated compounds.


It is well known that the freshwater resources in Egypt are limited and the potentials to achieve a better state are also limited. Table 7 summarises the potential water resources of Egypt. Meanwhile, as the population grows up, water needs concurrently grow, i.e., enhancing the profitability of every one cubic meter of water is a must. In this respect, several measures should be taken:
(1)   Saving of irrigation water. Implementation of water-saving irrigation systems; instead of the conventional flood irrigation predominating in the Nile Delta and in Upper Egypt. Presently, modern ways such as dripping and sprinkling are spread out in the newly reclaimed lands. This resulted in reducing water consumption to nearly 50%.
(2) Reduction of wasted water in the irrigation network. The ideal way of saving a considerable amount of water is to reform the network by means of ducts and by lining and covering canals. Unfortunately, this solution is highly expensive. Yet, lining the irrigation canals is of particular importance in preventing leakage of water through side banks. This kind of leakage is also responsible for the rising up of water level in the soil, leading to harmful impacts on the efficacy of the agricultural drainage system.
Therefore, covering at least the subcanals, results in a substantial reduction in water waste lost into the sea as well as preventing the growth of water weeds and snails of Bilharzia. Fighting water weeds as e.g., water hyacinth, not only limits their harmful effects upon the environment but also effectively reduces the rate of water transpiration. However, recent studies showed that these plants are capable of accumulating pollutants as e.g., heavy metals and pesticides (Fayed and Abdel-Shafy, 1985; Fayed and Abdel-Shafy, 1986; Abdel-Shafy et al., 1998). Meanwhile, these plants can also be converted to useful compost and biogas via anaerobic digestion (Abdel-Shafy, 1996).
(3) Proper management of river supplies. The water control system should be improved during the winter season when, fortunately, lesser amounts of water are required for irrigation purposes. However, to fulfil the demands of electric power generation and river navigation, particularly tourist cruising, appropriate measures have to be designed that could result in efficient reduction of water consumption. The expected reduction ranges from 4 ´ 109 to nearly 0.8 ´ 109 m3/yr.
(4) Cost/benefit considerations. In view of the anticipated world-wide water shortage, particularly in the Middle East, thinking over of the crop structure in Egypt by computing the yield in proportion to the consumption of one cubic meter of water may reconstruct this structure. Consequently, the reduction of crops of heavy water consumption, such as rice and sugarcane, in favour of those that modestly require water may presumably help in solving the problem. Landowners may contribute to the running costs of the irrigation system, management and maintenance, or pay for water regulation.
(5) Integrating concepts. Undoubtedly, urban and industrial water consumption deserves careful reviewing. In Cairo, the rate of the individual consumption increased several times within the last fifty years: 250 L in 1952, 210 L in 1970, 300 L in 1980, and 400 L in 2000 as compared to 69 L in 1936. Of course these figures indicate the rate of development. Nevertheless, an overuse should be rationalized. The Cairo sewer system, on the other hand, duly suffered a lot and the rehabilitation of the system has become one of the paramount projects worldwide. Hence, it is obligatory to integrate technical means with social parameters, such as public awareness, individual behaviour and the reduction of overuse with the economizing efforts as by stipulating incremental water pricing system. It is also worth mentioning that adopting modern technologies will reduce water inputs in the industrial and cooling processes.

Table 7. Potential water resources (109 m3)

Upper Nile projects


     Limiting losses in swamps northern El-Gabal and El-Razaf


     Limiting losses in El-Sobat valley swamps


     Limiting losses in Bahr–El-Gazal swamp basins


     Current storage in equatorial lakes


Total of upper Nile projects


     Projects for reusing drainage water


     Projects for enlarging ground water reuse


     Exploitation for the reuse of sewage water


     Storage capacity in the northern lakes


     Projects for developing irrigation systems





In spite of the deficiency of the Egyptian water budget, the water resources are still misused. The current water demands in Egypt are shown in Table 8. Our loss is estimated to be about 29.5 ´ 109 m3/yr (i.e., about 53% of our Nile water budget). This means that only 47% of the water income is efficiently used. This loss of water can be referred to as follows: (1) leakage from the Nile main stream up to the small irrigating canals (about 19.4 ´ 109 m3/yr, which is 35% of the water budget); (2) evaporation that could be prevented by planting trees around the small canals; (3) loss through the weeds and water hyacinths (estimated to be 3.45 ´ 109 m3/yr); (4) navigation (approx. 3.5 ´ 109 m3/yr) up to the Mediterranean Sea; and (5) loss of fresh treated water through the pipes subserving domestic and industrial sectors (approx. 1.34 ´ 109 m3/yr, i.e., about 40% of treated water).

Table 8. Current water demands in Egypt (109m3/yr)







Potable water



For industrial uses



For navigation and hydrological balance sum






* after maintaining the network (the current loss is about 50%)

      Industrial development was a front piece of the national endeavour after the Egyptian revolution in 1952. By 1956 all major industries became nationalized. However, inadequate attention was paid to the long-term issue of environmental deterioration. The first comprehensive environmental legislation controlling disposal of wastewater in the Nile and canals, Law 93 was put into force in 1962. However, the regulations and standards set were not applied to the public sector industries. Out of fear of hindering industrial development, the inspection was discouraged, and the rules were not enforced.
      Law 48/1982 expanded the list of regulated pollutants but allowed industrial waste discharges into the Nile, its branches, lakes, and groundwater provided that certain quality limits are observed. Water quality standards were specified in Decree 8/1983. However, pollution continued at escalating rates in almost total disregard of the law.
      As the Egyptian Government had become increasingly aware of the importance of environmental risk management in the economic development, health and quality of life, a regulation (Law 4/1994) was enacted to overcome the explicit disadvantages caused by its ascendants. In 1993 an Egyptian Environmental Information System was set up as an integral part of the Egyptian Environmental Agency. A pilot project was started to concentrate on various issues related to the environmental protection problems.
      Protection of our environment and water resources can be achieved through (1) adequate treatment of wastewater; (2) adapting simple technologies of the clean nature, low-cost and effective systems for the treatment of sewage water, particularly for the small communities; and (3) developing industrial processes to minimize the wastes utilizing them as by-product and/or recycling cooling water.


By year 2030, the industrial consumption of water was estimated to increase to about 6.7 ´ 109 m3/yr for cooling water and to 3 ´ 109 m3/yr for process water (Abdel-Dayem, 1994). It follows that a multiple of the current quantity of industrial effluents will have to be treated and discharged into the Nile system within the next few years. Thereby, the implementation of pollution control measures is obligatory to tackle not only the immediate situation but also the alarming near future.
      There is no doubt that the main restraint on agricultural development in Egypt is the limited availability of water. The Egyptian water plan to fulfil land reclamation is obliged to intensively rely on the use of agricultural drainage mixed with canal water, the use of treated wastewater and groundwater (Goueli, 1993). However, in agriculture, sustainability of the productivity requires a high degree of care in the use of low quality water due to its adverse impact on land resources. Definitely, the growing demands to fulfil the chief activities in Egypt cannot satisfactorily be served by such a limited amount of water resources. The expected gap between demands and supplies are envisaged as represented in Table 1 (Abdel-Dayem, 1994; El-Kassas, 1998).
      At present, the major challenge that Egypt has got to face is how to meet the increased future demands for food with almost fixed amounts of water resources. The plans to increase the water resources through construction of water reservoirs in the upper Nile valley has been discontinued due to the civil war in the south of Sudan. Hence, the in-country projects for saving freshwater and reusing the treated wastewater are merely the present possibilities. This implies the improvement of irrigation at the main system as well as at the farm level, encouraging groundwater abstraction and the reuse of drainage water to the maximum possible limits, and conserving water quality. Decision on the timely way is one of the objectives of water quality planning and management.
      The Egyptian Water Quality Management Action Plan critically reviewed the current monitoring program (Abou-Elela and Zaher, 1988). Effective networks with well specified monitoring stations, sampling frequency and parameters were strongly recommended. Great deal of concern should also be given to the analytical methods and quality control of the results and to the intercalibration procedures between the operating laboratories.


Acceleration of the productivity is the main objective of Egyptian economy. This is reached sometimes at the expense of sustainability. The challenge the policy-maker faces is how the development can reduce poverty, and be made compatible with the maintenance of the natural resources (Radi, 1987). In this context, the following recommendations can be adopted:
–   The water quality monitoring programs of the Nile water, drainage water and groundwater need to be integrated into one national efficient monitoring network, directed to stimulation, coordination and integration of already ongoing monitoring activities. The central functions should include detection of gaps and weak points and providing guidelines on how to supplement new activities in the ongoing monitoring activities.
A central agency responsible for the management of municipal wastes, collection and treatment should be established.
A well coordinated information system is needed to help the planners and decision makers to make proper water quality assessment in order to manage the water resources on an environmentally sound basis.
The scientific and technical capabilities of the integrated planning for sustained and environmentally sound use and development of water resources should be enhanced.
Analytical and mathematical tools for an integrated management of water resources, with emphasis on water quality models should be implemented and applied.
More effort should be directed to redesigning chemical processes to reduce waste of raw materials, to produce less by-product and to assure systems that recycle, purify or, otherwise, find use of by-products.
The energy consumption should be controlled. Sometimes over half of the energy is wasted. This leads to the thermal pollution of waterways implicating the reduction of dissolved oxygen that renders the streams hardly capable of sustaining aquatic life.
More emphasis should be placed on the cost/benefit aspects of low-waste technologies. Shortage of capital, lack of qualified labor or incentives of short-term returns should not therefore limit the level of technology acquired by industry. The bad condition of the equipment in some factories often results in the production of excessive waste as well as loss of raw materials.
Industrial development projects that control pollution of the natural resources, particularly water supplies, will have a very large net positive economic impact and therefore should be given priority.
The protection of water against pollution can be achieved better through control of pollution at the source. The challenge to industry is practically and economically accomplishing this task, without an excessive burden to itself.
Legislation sensible to environmental control should depend on a thorough knowledge of the existing situation and careful assessment of its likely impact on the development.
Detailed studies to minimize the quantity and improve the quality of wastewater discharged should be carried out for each industry. Research must take the objective of sustainability into consideration. Low input use and low levels of chemicals must have priority in research.
Toxicological research should be promoted towards the early prediction of any chronic side effect of new compounds, particularly of carcinogens. Guidelines for management of their use and disposal are required.
Integration of old and new lands in the distribution of resources and marketing is a positive sign of conservation of water supplies. Sustainability of water resources should be kept in terms of quality and quantity.
The reuse of efficiently treated sewage water after/or without mixing with freshwater for land reclamation and irrigation of sandy soils should be optimised. To avoid any pollutants to the food chain cycle, suitable plants should carefully be selected.
Water should be introduced in the economic accounting of the various agricultural uses. Hence, a system of cost recovery to maintain the irrigation system can be established.
A better distribution of the population among the regions is required to limit the deterioration of the environment and urban encroachment on natural resources, particularly water supplies.
The use of proper and low technologies in agriculture limits the pollution of water canals and soil.
The use of water hyacinth plants as animal food after mixing with grains (Abdel-Sabour et al., 1997) or to convert them to compost and biogas by means of anaerobic treatment is desirable (Abdel-Sabour et al., 2001).
The foreign aids on which the Egyptian scientific research system is highly dependent are in jeopardy. Therefore, the creation of powerful self-support research system is of sensible top priority.
The developing countries may either passively or actively benefit from western experience. The passive approach would be to select a choice of appropriate technologies of treatment developed in the West and apply them. A more active and sustainable approach would be to establish the conditions for native compatible innovation. Meanwhile, the sustainable scientific cooperation and transfer of information between the European Countries and Egypt can certainly help in the environmental protection issue.
Desalination of seawater can be a very promising tool in increasing the water budget. However, it is very costly. Therefore, more intensive research is highly needed in this important field.
The education of the environmental protection issue should be promoted through the institutions and media.

      At present, the Egyptian industrial managers and engineers are ill equipped to respond to the growing concern and misgivings about industrial pollution. Neither their academic, nor their on-the-job training have provided them with knowledge and experience necessary for identifying, characterizing and dealing with environmental problems. Yet, mention must be made of a number of initiatives in education and research, in several academic and research institutions (Dijkman, 1993; El-Kassas, 1998; Gaber, 1994).


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Received:  24 September 2001
Accepted:  19 June 2002

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