Access to clean and freshwater remains a fundamental human right as driven by the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (UN’s SDG 6) Number 6. Unfortunately, access to clean water as an essential resource in Africa is not yet fully realized. The UN has estimated that 1 in 3 people across the African continent lack access to this vital resource.
Efforts to enhance access to clean water remain essential and a priority for the African continent. This will enhance the health of Africans, more especially children, to enable drinking, irrigation, farming, and industrial applications. However, access to fresh and clean water remains scarce for most African countries such as South Africa, Niger, Egypt, Sudan, and Chad, among others.
African countries, more especially in the North African region, have less than 1% of the world’s freshwater, making freshwater scarcity endemic. Egypt is no exception to water scarcity as it is one of the driest countries in the world and poorly endowed with natural freshwater supplies. Reports have estimated that the water present per capita availability in Egypt is approximately 985 cubic meters per year. Fundamentally, about 98% of Egypt’s freshwater resources originate outside its borders. For example, the Nile River originates from Ethiopia and East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan), although it provides approximately 93% of the country’s water requirements. Egypt utilizes groundwater aquifers and limited surface water as sources of freshwater, and in some cases, the country utilizes sewage treated municipal water to provide clean water sources.
Apart from the deficient rainfalls, inadequate access to freshwater in Egypt is further heightened by Egypt’s rapid population growth. Since the 1990s, Egypt’s population has grown by approximately 41% and currently stands at approximately 92 million people. By 2025, the population is envisaged to reach approximately 110 million and with such population growth rates, freshwater sources may continue to diminish. Furthermore, the vast human activities along the Nile River have exacerbated water scarcity in Egypt. This has led to the pollution that comes from municipal and industrial waste. Affluents from the waste are negatively impacting the usability of the water and endangering the aquatic ecosystem that depends on the water. In addition, Egypt’s irrigation systems are also responsible for wasting the already limited water sources. Reports have shown that approximately 35% of underground water leaks through the water irrigation infrastructural system.
To address these challenges, Egypt has formulated several policy frameworks to regulate water production and management to enable socio-economic development activities such as agriculture, industrial applications, portable water for drinking, and fisheries, among others. This includes, among other things, efficient water management systems and increasing water supply through water treatment and desalination.
Egypt’s Vision 2030 to increase water supply across the country has primarily focused on enhancing sustainable energy generation and management and enabling innovation and scientific research towards enhancing water supply and distribution. This has been accomplished through transparent and efficient governance systems to ensure sustainable environmental management. Water management through sustainable environmental management has been underscored and integrated into the country’s socio-economic development to preserve natural resources.
Despite the water scarcity challenges, Egypt has adopted some of the most advanced digital and smart water technologies to mitigate the challenges of water scarcity. These technologies have been focused on preserving the existing water sources and bodies as well as increasing the water supply through water treatment and desalination.
Egypt has adopted smart water technologies such as sensors that are operated using digital technologies. These digital sensor technologies enable real-time monitoring and evaluation of water-related data such as pressure, water quality, and moisture. This has significantly enabled Egypt to develop and implement sustainable irrigation systems to eliminate water wastages and leakages. For example, within the country’s agricultural activities, Egypt is utilizing moisture sensors to regulate irrigation and further enhance water conservation in the country. These digitized moisture sensors can be placed inside the soil to measure the soil's moisture percentage. This data is then digitally transmitted to the farmer’s smartphone application via satellite signals to enable the farmer to formulate timely and efficient decisions. For instance, this technology has realized applications in the Al Sharqia governorate.
Consequently, by using these digital sensors to measure the degree of humidity, the farmers can decide on their irrigation protocols and activities in a timely manner. This is helping Egypt sustainably preserve water because the irrigation of crops and vegetables is implemented only on a need basis. Furthermore, this technology is enabling farmers to determine if their fields have been irrigated adequately. Once the fields have been adequately irrigated, farmers can immediately stop the irrigation after they are notified of the adequate irrigation through their smartphone applications.
Furthermore, Egypt has adopted the Irrigation Water Information (IRWI) application. This IRWI application provides farmers with customized information about their land chemistry and type, local weather conditions, and suitable crop types. The application can also provide crop evaporation values and the amount of water required. This is normally based on the crop types, irrigation systems, farm sizes, planting times, types of water pumps, energy sources, and soil types. Consequently, this has enabled farmers to conserve more water for future irrigation.
To increase water supply, Egypt has also developed several desalination technologies to purify seawater into potable water. Seawater desalination can be accomplished through seawater evaporation and subsequently condensing and cooling through the process of distillation. Consequently, the newly treated water can be utilized for consumption and irrigation. Egypt’s current freshwater capacity is 800,000 cubic meters of water per day. However, the Egyptian government is targeting approximately 6.4 million cubic meters by 2050.
Traditionally, Egypt’s desalination process involves using a huge amount of energy to distil the seawater, which turns out to be very expensive. To address this challenge, Egypt utilizes membrane technology to desalinate seawater cost-effectively and inexpensively. The technology can also be utilized for pervaporation, reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, nanofiltration, and ultrafiltration, among others. To further improve the membrane technology-enabled water treatment output without compromising the quality of water being produced, some scientists are exploring the possibility of utilizing nanotechnology to enhance water permeability and remove pollutants from seawater or wastewater. This is aimed at improving the water supply output cost-effectively.
The African Union High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) appreciates Egypt’s responses and efforts towards addressing water scarcity challenges. Thus, APET encourages all African countries to invest more resources towards enhancing their water supply and water quality through various smart technologies. By adopting these smart technologies for water supply and management, African countries can effectively meet their water demand through strengthened and sustainable management systems. In this way, African countries can accomplish the African Union’s Agenda 2030 in enhancing water productivity and conservation. Thus, APET believes these smart technologies can be replicated in other African countries to provide their citizenry with adequate high-quality water. Thus, APET recommends that African countries embrace new technologies to deal with the African water challenges to accomplish the “Africa We Want.”