It has often been said that future wars will be waged over water. Water is rapidly becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Blessed with its strategic proximity to the Nile, Egypt has been enjoying agricultural wealth due to it lion’s share of the Nile waters (more than any other Nile basin country), which was cemented by many Nile agreements and justified by its rising population, among other things. However, in the last few years, alarming reports have emerged regarding the use of untreated sewage water by Egyptian farmers to irrigate their crops.
Photocredit : Trover
It reached a climax in September 2016, when a few countries banned the import of Egyptian fruits and vegetables due to health concerns. Within one week, the UAE, Russia and Sudan issued a ban against importing fruits and vegetables from Egypt after several people were diagnosed with Hepatitis A in the US as a result of consuming strawberries imported from Egypt.
The shortage of clean water and the subsequent use of untreated sewage water for irrigation may be attributed to many factors: some of which is a clear water deficit due to Egypt’s rising population, and other upstream Nile countries renegotiating their share of the Nile waters due to their increasing populations. It has been proven that treated sewage water can be used for irrigation. However, the cost of treating sewage water to acceptable levels is very high. That, combined with severe droughts, lack of rainfall and the shortage of water affecting many agricultural areas in Egypt has forced farmers to resort to using untreated sewage water, which contains high levels of harmful chemical from animal and human waste, that, over time will pose major health risks to consumers.
We talked to Louay El Kout of Offah, who verified that it is true that most small farmers all around greater Cairo, such as Qalyubiya and Abu Rawash, do in fact use sewage water for farming due to the increasing prices that they can no longer keep up with. The problem with the water used is that it causes disease, as we saw with the strawberries that were exported to the US last september. They were washed using waste water, which had hepatitis A, that was transferred to the strawberries and then to the people who consumed them them. El Kout commented that the only farms you can be absolutely certain do not use waste water, are those that are certified organic farms. Most farms though, could be using any of the different types of waste water, which means that any and all vegetables being sold inside Egypt or imported are loaded with toxins that will cause diseases.
For the time being, it doesn’t look like there will be any major changes to make our local fruits and vegetables actually clean and not filled with harmful toxins. But there is a rising awareness about clean organic fruits and vegetables farms in Cairo. For a list of the farms that offer organic and chemical-free fruits, vegetables and herbs in Cairo, check out our article about the many Organic Farms in Cairo.
Photocredit: IRIN news