At a time when Egypt is facing a potential water crisis, an independent initiative is working to foster a culture of environmental cooperation among university students, encouraging them to conserve the waters of the Nile.
University Students in Egypt Help Protect the Nile
“The project is based on volunteering and team work to provide volunteers with skills contributing to building their personality and expanding their awareness of volunteerism, community service and the preservation of the Nile water.”
The Nile Project University Program offers a variety of activities to provide students with the necessary skills to manage and carry out conservation projects in three main areas: water, energy and food. So far it has worked with student volunteers at six universities in five Nile Basin countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
“The project is based on volunteering and team work to provide volunteers with skills contributing to building their personality and expanding their awareness of volunteerism, community service and the preservation of the Nile water,” said Areeg Hisham of Nahdet el Mahrousa, a Cairo-based nongovernmental organization that is coordinating the university program, which is funded by the Drosos Foundation.
Egypt relies on the Nile River for about 90 percent of its freshwater needs, according to the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental research center. However, as Ethiopia nears completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a huge hydroelectric facility on the Blue Nile, which is the main supplier of the Nile waters reaching Egypt, officials in Cairo fear that a natural resource crisis is looming for Egypt.
The process of filling the vast reservoir behind the dam is expected to reduce the flow of the river, which Egypt’s government says will threaten millions of Egyptian farmers as well as food supplies in the country. Egypt and Ethiopia have for years tried to reach an agreement on how quickly to fill the reservoir. Addis Ababa proposes filling it over three years, while Egypt prefers to do so over 15 years, afraid of the impact on its water needs.
Egypt is already below the global “water poverty” line and is approaching the threshold the United Nations defines as “absolute scarcity.” (See a related article, “Water is Scarce in Egypt; So Are Research Funds.”)
“We currently have a water deficit of 42 billion cubic meters per year,” said Nader Noureddine, a professor of soil and water resources at Cairo University. “Egypt is supposed to have 104 billion cubic meters to be classified above the water poverty line, but we have only 62 billion, of which 55.5 billion cubic meters comes from the Nile,” he added.
Tons of Trash in the River
The Nile Project University Program reaches students informally, as all its activities are conducted outside universities and are advertised on social media. Over the course of two years, it has provided training in various volunteer activities to 183 male and female students in Egypt in the governorates between Cairo and Aswan, through which the Nile River passes. The students have participated in more than 20 civil-society initiatives to promote social responsibility toward the river.
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One of those projects focused on cleaning a section of the Nile in the Agouza district, in the center of Cairo. The students lifted about 10 tons of garbage from the Nile and conducted outreach campaigns for citizens in the surrounding areas, teaching them about the dangers of dumping waste into the Nile water.
The program also launched an initiative to supply safe drinking water sources to areas lacking them. One effort created a clean public water source feeding two villages in the center of Ausim, to the north of the Giza governorate. Volunteers installed water filters, planted trees in neglected streets, set up school gardens and distributed outreach books to students in the schools.
The Nile Project University Program also participated in the launch of the VeryNile initiative, in cooperation with Bassita and Greenish, two companies interested in preserving the environment, in order to raise awareness of the danger of the wasteful use of plastic products and the importance of not dumping them in the Nile. Volunteers with the initiative collected 11.5 tons of garbage in two hours.
“The task of VeryNile is to create high-efficiency removal tools such as floating dams, or cleaning the water using robots,” said Salem Masalha, founder of Bassita. “However, all that would be useless if we do not stop dumping plastic into the river.”
Most of the plastic in the oceans comes from rivers, according to a recent study by the World Economic Forum. Ninety percent of the plastic comes from just 10 rivers, eight of them in Asia, and two in Africa: the Nile and the Niger.
The project also includes a fellowship program to support young university students interested in water and food issues and in water conflict resolution, to enable them to develop a regional network of Nile Project clubs on campuses. The goal is for the clubs to transfer knowledge, share experiences and create innovative environmental and cultural solutions to the challenges of Nile sustainability.
“I wanted to improve my skills and knowledge. Now I have a strong interest in preserving the environment.”
Omniya Aba Zaid, a first-year student at Aswan University’s Faculty of Arts, was introduced to the project by one of her colleagues. “I like volunteering and taking part in new initiatives,” she said.
Aba Zaid helped carry out an initiative to build greenhouses and provide irrigation water in villages near Kom Ombo in the Aswan Governorate.
“I wanted to improve my skills and knowledge,” said Aba Zaid. “Now, I have a strong interest in preserving the environment.”
Abdurrahman Hassan Hamdi, a fourth-year student in the School of Agriculture at Benha University, north of Cairo, believes the project has not only increased his environmental awareness but also helped him develop new personal skills.
“I have learned a lot from the activities I have participated in and from the obstacles we have encountered,” he said. “I have become more able to be involved in team work and also in project management.”
Hassan hopes that the project will be expanded and adopted by Egyptian universities. “I hope the project will be used to develop awareness of preserving the Nile within Egypt’s universities in order to ensure wider impact and greater participation,” he said.
Nader Noureddine, the Cairo University professor, believes in the importance of outreach programs like the Nile Project, but those alone are not enough, he said. “We need effort, planning and coordination between the government and all the bodies working to do this to make a real change,” he said.