Dear Ministers, dear colleagues and friends,
For thousands of years wise people in this part of the world have emphasised the importance of water as a source of life, a source of everything. Water is the prerequisite for human survival and dignity. It is fundamental to the resilience of society and the environment in which we live. Nowhere is this more in evident than in Egypt, the gift of the River Nile as Herodotus wrote more than 25 centuries ago. Water is the “life-blood” of the economy, industries, societal functions, nature as well as health and wellbeing of our citizens.
Water is now also becoming a source of tension and even conflict. Today water scarcity is a global challenge and it is particularly true in the Mediterranean region which is among the world's most water-scarce places on Earth.
All countries in the Mediterranean region are concerned about water conservation and fair distribution. This is not only a challenges but opens new opportunities to apply a common approach to the problems of water resource management and more precisely water governance.
Water pollution is an aggravating factor for water availability in Egypt and the Mediterranean countries. It can be addressed firstly by applying sustainable water management, including wastewater treatment and water re-use; and secondly by enforcing environmental standards and nature based solutions to restore biodiversity and resilience.
Water is a sector in which the European Union has been active in Egypt for over a decade. The EU is assisting the Government of Egypt in improving the quality of life for the people by expanding water coverage, improving the quality of water, proving wastewater treatment, and promoting cooperation between our expert institutions throughout the water cycle.
Water is – and will remain – one of our main pillars of intervention, through investing in human capital; ensuring a strong public awareness about water scarcity and water pollution; the Cairo Water Week which is a major water event in Egypt has been a key pillar in this efforts since its first edition in 2018; supporting investments in infrastructure in partnership with European Financial Institutions such as the European Investment Bank like waste water treatment plants; and we expect future investments to cover modern irrigation methods, desalination, canal rehabilitation, and many more. Finally and equally important we will continue replicating regional Mediterranean initiatives like the ‘’Horizon 2020 for a Cleaner Mediterranean’’.
Here some facts and figures of what the EU is concretely doing in Egypt: the EU has been responding to water scarcity challenges ever since 2007 and has invested more than EUR 500 million in grants, leveraging concessional funds of nearly EUR 3 billion from European Financial Institutions; our existing co-funded programmes are present in 16 Egyptian Governorates, providing permanent and short-term job opportunities, mainly in rural areas. This shall help in improving the quality of life for more than 18.5 million citizens by the year 2025. These funds have supported the preparation of the National Water Resources Strategy for Egypt 2017-2050, and supported the development of the National Rural Sanitation Programme leading to a big number of projects as part of the implementation of these plans.
These include the rehabilitation of the Kitchener drain as Minister Mashat has already mentioned, a novel project with a holistic approach to de-pollution by tackling different sources of pollution in an integrated way. Another concrete project is the Lake Qarun Wastewater Programme which has helped improve the quality of life of over 3 million people. A new phase of the programme will increase the coverage even further.
We believe that the road to achieve a sustainable water sharing and cooperation must pass through enabling the development of the circular economy and of green growth; meeting the obligations of Parties to the Barcelona Convention and other Multilateral Environmental Agreements to which Members of the Union for the Mediterranean are Parties; and pursuing the objectives of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development.
A few weeks ago the EU agreed on ‘A new Agenda for the Mediterranean’ which gives the impetus for relaunching and strengthening the strategic partnership with the region. This new Agenda is based on the conviction that by working together and in a spirit of partnership, common challenges can be turned into opportunities, in the mutual interest of the EU and our Southern Neighbourhood, with Egypt as key a partner. The agenda is accompanied by the Economic Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours aiming to improve the quality of life for people in the region and to ensure that the economic recovery, following the COVID-19 pandemic, leaves no one behind.
Water is included as a top priority in this investment plan, and I am glad to announce that the EU is joining efforts with Member States, the EIB and the EBRD in preparing a large intervention, a Team Europe Initiative on Water and Food Security, to support Egypt’s efforts to combat climate change, protect the environment and ensure sustainable food systems.
The new EU policies and specially the new EU GREEN Deal and its external dimension will promote the real “Value of Water”, develop systemic solutions and changes towards healthy water bodies, and secure high water quality, using it in the right way within a sustainably circular society and thus achieving a Water-Smart Society.