‘The Nile is our life, but the water is running out’

NOS News

  • Daisy Mohr

    Middle East Correspondent

  • Daisy Mohr

    Middle East Correspondent

“Our country is thirsty, our country is thirsty, we want to give it our blood.” Farmer Serire and her daughter Mervat sing in the autumn heat as they harvest peppers in a field in the Nile Delta. They experience almost daily how quickly it gets drier in their region.

The climate summit starts on Sunday in the seaside resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, the country where Serire and Mervat see the consequences of climate change with their own eyes. They have worked on the land of the Nile Delta for decades.

“The Nile is our life and brings us life, but the water is dwindling,” says Serire. Low on their knees, they chop the ground. “If we are lucky, the river water comes through the canals like this once a week, but we have to irrigate at least four times a week. Along the way, other farmers have often already taken the water, and there is almost nothing left. for us.”


Almost everyone in Egypt lives in and around the Nile Delta. At least 90 percent of the more than one hundred million Egyptians depend on the Nile for work, water and food. The river is a lifeline, but the water is running out. For example, Egyptians are outraged by the controversial dam built by Ethiopia, which reduces the Nile water reaching Egypt. In addition, there is almost no rainfall and salinization is an increasing problem.

Many trees and crops no longer grow due to the increasingly salty soil:

Salinization is a growing problem in Egypt

“I need a lot of groundwater,” sighs landowner Ahmad Abu Khatwa. A water pump hums in the background, water splashing over the edges. “But I want my Nile Water, the very best water in the world. We will not survive here without my Nile Water,” says Abu Khatwa.

A horse walks across the country with a wagon behind it. That’s how it’s been here for centuries. Abu Khatwa is the fourth generation to cultivate this land. “My father, grandfather and great-grandfather did not have these problems.” He walks proudly through the fields and runs his hand over plants. “Look, my peppers are thirsty. You can see that right away. They scream: I need water Ahmad. And I say: inshallah Can I arrange it for you?”

He often thinks back to the days when there was more than enough water. “With more water, everything would grow much better. The harvest would double, but it’s not there,” says Abu Khatwa, looking at his green beans destined for export to Europe.

“Need more effective techniques”

Max Abouleish is associated with the so-called Sekem initiative in the countryside north of Cairo. Within this initiative, he works closely with 2000 farmers throughout Egypt. They see sustainable agriculture as an important part of the fight against climate change.

“The behavior of people and farmers does not yet reflect the acute situation. We see very traditional ways of dealing with Nile water. Flood irrigation for example, which is certainly not the most water-efficient way,” says Abouleish.

According to him, there is much to be gained by introducing more efficient water techniques. Abouleish: “83 percent of water use is driven by agriculture. So that’s where the most progress can be made.”

Better techniques can make the soil more ‘resilient’, says Abouleish. This will help farmers in a country that is already badly affected by climate change. Not only because it is very hot, but also because we are experiencing weather fluctuations that make it difficult for farmers to cope with the changing climate,” explains Abouleish. “And also on a global level, Egypt is facing the danger of rising water levels. as due to the enormous population density of the Nile Delta.”

Fear for future generations

When landowner Abu Khatwa wakes up early in the morning, he first checks for Nile water in his canals. That’s less and less the case: “I worry about crops that I can no longer grow. This is the first season I’m planting sesame,” he says.

He shakes sesame seeds from some branches in the field. “Sesame hardly needs water. At least then I’ll be less irritated. For me, the Nile is my life, I can’t live without the Nile’s water. My only worry is that the water will run out, so the Nile will not be enough for us any longer. I might be able to manage for the next few years, but what will it be like for the next generations who have to water my land?

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