Organisatie - 10 maart 2011

Water expertise for democratic Egypt

Astrid Smit

Alterra is involved in water projects in Egypt. After the democratic revolution the distribution of water is more relevant than ever.

Corruption. That is what lies behind the popular revolt in Egypt and other Arab countries, says Magdy Salah El Deen. The Egyptian people have raised the issue on numerous occasions under Mubarak's rule. 'But he was not listening.'
Magdy Salah El Deen is involved in the Egyptian-Dutch Advisory Panel on Water Management, which advises the ministry of Water Management and Irrigation on efficient water use. For 15 years, El Deen has been collaborating on this theme with Alterra researcher Wouter Wolters, who represents the Netherlands on the panel. On the advice of this panel, Dutch expertise on water is disseminated, leading for example to the draining of large areas of agricultural land along the Nile.
El Deen is enthusiastic about the revolution. 'Last week the government was changed because the people wanted that. For 5,000 years one king after the other has inherited the crown from his predecessor. Now the people are choosing. There is a lesson here for the new government too: we can vote you out.'

Water remains scarce
The water panel has implemented about 40 projects over the past 35 years. In recent years it has focused largely on water rights (the transparent distribution of water) and on cooperatives to give users a say in the distribution of water, explains Samia El Gundy, member of the water panel. These themes fit the new zeitgeist, with the people standing up for their rights, she adds.
However democratic Egypt becomes, it will continue to face water scarcity. The population is 85 million and grows by more than one million per year. And now one and half million Egyptians are fleeing home from Libya. 'We must grow more food with less water and using fewer pesticides', says El Deen. 'For that we very much need the cooperation of the Netherlands in the panel.'
El Guindy also indicates that Egypt wants to continue the collaboration. 'The minister has written to the Dutch ambassador.' The Netherlands is doubtful, as the government wants to drastically reduce the number of countries receiving Dutch development aid. Wolters: 'But I assume that a substantial level of collaboration will remain. The Netherlands must do something for the young democracies of the Middle East.'