ECC Platform Library

 

Security Implications of Growing Water Scarcity in Egypt

Type of conflict main
Intensity 1.5
Region
Northern Africa
Time 2013 ‐ ongoing
Countries Egypt
Resources Water
Conflict Summary Egypt is currently using more water than its internal renewable resources, mainly based on Nile fresh water inflows, supply. Water stress in Egypt is...
Security Implications of Growing Water Scarcity in Egypt
Egypt is currently using more water than its internal renewable resources, mainly based on Nile fresh water inflows, supply. Water stress in Egypt is expected to further increase in the future as a result of rapid population growth, rising temperatures and increasing water consumption in Egypt and other Nile basin countries. If not properly dealt with, growing water scarcity will put severe strains on Egypt’s economy and make the country more vulnerable to renewed internal strife.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

The Nile region and Egypt in particular, will experience temperature increases, thus intensifying irrigation needs. Sea-level rise may also lead to the salinization of coastal aquifers with detrimental effects on local water resources.

Intermediary Mechanisms

A reduction of available water can have a detrimental effect on agricultural productivity. Against this backdrop, Egypt could face rising food insecurity and unemployment. A decline in agricultural production could risk plunging the Egyptian state into a serious crisis of legitimacy.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

As a result, mounting water scarcities in Egypt could revive anti-state grievances expressed in the 2011 uprising. Political instability in the Nile basin region could also ensue if Egypt blames upstream countries for its reduced water availability in light of upstream water diversion projects.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Sea level rise leads to salinization of coastal aquifers.Demographic changes increase pressures on available water resources.Economic developments place additional strains on water resources.Economic activity causes pollution.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Pollution reduces available/usable freshwater.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources undermines state capacity.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to tensions between states.Reduced capacity and/or legitimacy of the state compounds fragility.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityA rise of sea-level and the related coastal degradation and change of land and territory.Sea Level RiseChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentPollution and degradation of ecosystems, such as coral reefs.Pollution / Environmental DegradationConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesReduced capacity of the state to fulfil basic functions deemed necessary by the population and/or reduced public support for state authorities.Reduced State Capacity and/or LegitimacyTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate TensionsA reduced ability of the state to fulfil basic functions.Weakened State
Context Factors
  • Dysfunctional Resource Management
  • Inadequate Infrastructure
  • Overreliance on Specific Supplies
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Political Transition
Conflict History

Egypt is currently using more water than its internal renewable resources supply and is expected to use even more water in the near future. According to the Egyptian statistics agency CAPMAS, the country’s per capita water resources have fallen from 2,526m3/year in 1947 to less than 700m3/year in 2013, which is well below the 1,000m3/year threshold deemed necessary by the United Nations to provide enough water for drinking, agriculture and nutrition (Masr, 2014). This trend is expected to continue, leading to a possible figure of less than 350m3/year by 2050 (see UNEP, 2014).
Similarly, aggregate water consumption is expected to increase by more than 20% in the next few years (El-Gindy, 2011; MWRI, 2014), while upstream development projects on the Nile risk to reduce the amount of water flowing down to Egypt. As a result of growing water scarcity, Egypt could face rising food insecurity and unemployment, which, in turn, could revive anti-state grievances or even lead to political instability in the Nile basin region (See Dispute over water in the Nile basin).

Growing demand for water
In Egypt, rapid population growth increases water stress by augmenting water requirements for domestic consumption and increased irrigation water use to meet higher food demands (Dakkak, 2016). Egypt has one of the highest population growth rates in the Middle East. Between 1970 and 2001 the number of people living in the country has doubled from 35.3 million to 69.8 million and is expected to reach about 100 million by 2020 (Roudi-Fahimi, et. al., 2002; UNEP, 2014).
Although Egypt is already importing the major part of the food it consumes, rising population numbers are contributing to an intensification of water use for domestic crop production, which accounts for nearly 86% of water withdrawals (ci:graps, 2015; Power, 2014). Water demand is also expected to increase as a result of ambitious projects to expand agriculture, industrial activities and urban centres into the Egyptian desert (see Swain, 2011; El Bedawy, 2014). 

Mismanagement and degradation of water resources
Wasteful irrigation practices, deficient water delivery infrastructures and pollution are additional factors reducing the amount of available water in Egypt. Only 6% of total irrigated areas use improved irrigation systems. This places Egypt at the bottom 10% of MENA countries in terms of irrigation efficiency (Soussa, 2010; Power, 2014). In fact, it is estimated that most of Egypt’s irrigation systems operate at only 50% efficiency (El-Gindy, 2011). 
Additional water is lost due to leaking pipes and drains (IRIN, 2011). Due to a lack of water treatment facilities and lax regulations, agricultural runoffs containing pesticides, industrial effluents and untreated sewage are being dumped in the Nile River, making its water gradually unfit for human consumption (Dakkak, 2016; El Bedawy, 2014).

Upstream development projects
In addition to these internal pressures, water availability in Egypt could also be reduced by external factors, such as the diversion of Nile water by upstream countries of the Nile basin, which are eager to harness their potential for hydropower and irrigated agriculture. Given that the Nile provides almost 97% of Egypt’s water, such development could affect Egypt’s water security in a significant way (See Dispute over water in the Nile basin and Dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam).

Water resources under a changing climate
Detailed climatic predictions vary across emission scenarios and employed models, but experts generally agree that the Nile region and Egypt in particular will experience further warming, thus increasing irrigation needs (Elshamy, Sayed & Badawy, 2009; Kim & Kaluarachchi, 2009; UNEP, 2014). Moreover, sea-level rise is going to put pressure on agriculture and water resources in the Nile delta, home to more than 35 million people and providing 63% of Egypt’s agricultural production (World Bank 2014). Due to intensive irrigation, the Nile’s environmental flows are already very limited, contributing to salinization and making the delta more vulnerable to seawater intrusion with detrimental effects on agricultural productivity and local water resources.

Possible security implications
Agriculture accounts for 14.5% of GDP as well as for most youth employment in Egypt (CIA, 2015; Amin, 2014). Given that water is an essential agricultural input and in view of the fact that food price inflation and youth unemployment were among the major grievances expressed in the 2011 uprising, scarcity-induced agricultural downturns risk plunging the Egyptian state into a serious crisis of legitimacy (Reiter, 2015).
Dwindling water resources may further aggravate existing grievances related to deficient water infrastructures, limited transparency and accountability in the water sector, as well as unequal distribution of water (c.f. Cunningham, 2012). Recent years have already seen numerous violent and non-violent protests in response to water shortages, excessive water pollution and water-intensive land reclamation projects in the Egyptian desert (Swain, 2011; IRIN, 2010; Pacific Institute, 2015). Such protest could intensify as available water resources are further depleted.
Eventually, water scarcity and political instability in Egypt may affect the entire Nile basin, whether as an unintended effect of Egyptian instability or as a result of a deliberate exercise of blame deflection: the Egyptian government may perceive fewer political risks in blaming or even punishing upstream countries for the situation than in attempting to reform Egypt’s water sector in line with what is environmentally sustainable (See Dispute over water in the Nile basin).

Resolution Efforts

Mounting water scarcities in Egypt have attracted the attention of various actors. The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) is mainly responsible for water allocation, but other bodies such as the ministries of agriculture, environment or health also have important responsibilities with regard to water allocation and water quality. In cooperation with international donors - in particular the World Bank - and the private sector they are currently working on regulating water demand and improving water supply (El Bedawy, 2014).

Reducing unnecessary losses
In an effort to limit wasteful irrigation practices, the Egyptian government is introducing innovative techniques to surface irrigation such as land levelling, gated pipes or canal lining. These have the potential to increase irrigation efficiency, but need to be backed by tedious interventions and firm policies (see CEDARE, 2011; UNEP, 2014). On the other hand, efforts to reduce unnecessary losses at the household level, for example by investing in water saving devices or introducing an efficient metering system and applying rising tariffs to encourage users to save water, remain yet limited (UNEP, 2014). Technical measures in the water sector are complemented by a public awareness program directed by the ‘Water Communication Unit’ of the MWRI. The program promotes water saving in irrigation and domestic uses and informs citizens about the importance of water conservation via regular newsletters, media announcements and public awareness campaigns (El Bedawy, 2014).

Improving water supply and quality
On the supply side, the Egyptian government has prepared a strategy for increasing the treatment and reuse of drainage and waste water (UNEP, 2014). Yet, there are important obstacles: high treatment costs, lack of political commitment and lack of public acceptance/awareness: due to important data gaps and limited information many Egyptians are suspicious as of the quality of treated water (Abdel-Shafy & Mohamed-Mansour, 2013). Egypt’s capacities for water reuse thus remain limited in comparison with other MENA countries (Jeuland, 2015).
In addition, the government is attempting to curb water pollution in order to increase the amount of usable water resources. Yet, outside the MWRI and the Ministry of State for the Environment, water quality control is generally not a top priority in the different ministries and their departments dealing with the issue often lack internal support. Moreover, the ministry of the environment has only limited influence in the water sector and, more generally, few resources (about 0.4% of public expenditures) are devoted to environmental protection (Luzi, 2010; UNEP, 2014).

Information and coordination challenges
Besides these measures, addressing Egypt’s water issues will also require a concerted effort of relevant government bodies and the active participation of water users. Despite promises of improving cooperation, mandates and objectives differ considerably across ministries. Organisational routines as well as conflicts of interest between sectors and levels of government - prioritizing political stability or particular interest groups - often challenge the MWRI’s ability to design and implement sustainable water development strategies (Luzi, 2010).
Moreover, coordination between stakeholders is hampered by important data and information gaps (UNEP, 2014). Data is collected over distant intervals and only for a few indicators. Data on municipal and industrial water use is seldom accurate and water losses within distribution networks are hard to quantify. Moreover, collected data is often not disseminated among different stakeholders, which constrains the development of comprehensive water development plans (El Bedawy, 2014).

Need for increased cooperation with other Nile basin countries
Given that the large majority of Egypt’s water resources originate outside its territory, Egypt’s relations with upstream Nile countries play a major part in any effort to address current and future water scarcity. There are opportunities for improving the efficiency of basin wide infrastructures and increasing the yield of the Nile, for example by completing the construction of a large canal through the South Sudanese Sudd, where an important amount of water is lost to evaporation (UNEP, 2014; El Bedawy, 2014). A further benefit from increased cooperation could be the transition to water saving crops, while importing more water demanding crops from upstream countries, which can produce them more efficiently (UNEP, 2014; Reiter, 2015). In view of recent tensions between Egypt and its upstream neighbours, such measures will however require a considerable diplomatic effort (See Dispute over water in the Nile basin).

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
Intensities
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Fatalities
0
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Resources
Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of Egypt
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Water users (Egypt)
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (Egypt)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Ministry of the Environment (Egypt)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
0 Cooperation An increased cooperation between Egypt and other Nile countries could help address current and future water scarcity by improving the efficiency of basin wide infrastructures and importing water-intensive crops from upstream countries, where they can be produced more efficiently. Increased cooperation is also needed between government bodies in Egypt, in order to design and implement sustainable water development strategies.
1 Improving infrastructure & services A strategy for increasing the treatment and reuse of drainage and waste water has been prepared by the Egyptian government.
1 Improving resource efficiency The Egyptian government is introducing technical measures to increase irrigation efficiency and to reduce unnecessary losses at the household level. A public awareness program promoting water saving in domestic uses is also being conducted.
1 Environmental restoration & protection The government is attempting to curb water pollution in order to increase the amount of usable water resources. However, water quality control is not being treated as a priority.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Mixed: The abilities of parties to affect the environmental resource is mixed.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
Conflict References References with URL
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Topics

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All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

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Gender

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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