Cairo, EGYPT – Without the Nile River, Egypt would be nothing but a desert. Actually, over two-thirds of Egypt’s land is a desert and about half of the 80 million Egyptian people live in the Nile Delta, where the river spreads out forming a delta shape that reaches the Mediterranean shore.
In Ancient Egypt, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, people respected the Nile so much that they built their houses on the east side and their tombs on the west.
Because of the Nile, Egypt’s main economic activity has for long been agriculture. Egyptians nowadays depend on the Nile for agricultural irrigation, fishing, transportation, generating electricity, and most importantly drinking.
With all this in mind, it only makes sense to take care of the Nile and protect it from pollution. However, the water of the Nile is way beyond polluted at this point. Factories drain their liquid waste into the Nile and irrigation canals bring back into the river water loaded with chemicals, harmful insecticides, and much more.
On April 22, a barge carrying five hundred tons of phosphate sank in the Nile, causing “extreme emergency,” as they called it at the time. A mass poisoning in a village in Al Sharqia Governorate north of Egypt a few days later was believed to be caused by polluted water.
The minister of Irrigation then denied that the phosphate had anything to do with the incident, claiming that if it were so, all seven cities between Qena, where the barge sank, and the village would have had cases of mass poisoning.
A week after the incident, the water was finally cleaned from the spilled phosphate. But perhaps the most alarming thing is that people kept drinking water from the Nile even during the “extreme emergency.”
As a desert country where it rains only a handful of times a year, Egypt is mainly dependent on the Nile for its water. Although bottled mineral water is available everywhere, the average middle class and lower class families cannot afford mineral water for drinking and cooking on a daily basis.
“We need a strict law with heavy fines to punish water pollution,” Nour Khalil, a Political Science major at the American University of Cairo, told Global Young Voices. “But the first logical step seems to be removing solid waste.”
Most of the students agree that the Egyptian government needs to start cleaning up the Nile and find alternative sources of water before it’s too late. A regulation is required to stop factories that produce chemicals from dumping their waste into the Nile.
Lina El Sayed, a high school senior at the International School of Elite Education, said: “This is basically a poor people problem. Rich people can afford to buy bottled water or even a minimal filter. Only poor people can't.”
El Sayed also blamed Egyptian media for not giving the problem the needed attention. “If it was something that drastically affected the rich,” she said, “the media and the people would talk about it more and call for action.”
cartoon credit: Cartoon Movement (2013)