The SDC is actively engaged in improving drinking water management in Egypt

The SDC has been working in Egypt since 2017 to improve drinking water management and make water distribution more equitable in disadvantaged neighbourhoods of the Aswan Governorate. Egypt, where COP27 is being held in early November, is among the African countries with the highest water stress.

A farmer in Aswan Governorate sits cross-legged in his field near the Aswan High Dam.

A 76-year-old farmer near the Aswan High Dam, Yassin Saeed, has been witnessing the environmental impact of how water is currently being managed in Upper Egypt. © Keystone

Convening COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh creates an opportunity for world leaders to take stock of their efforts to meet the targets set out six years ago in the Paris Agreement. During the summit, the Red Sea city on the Sinai Peninsula's southern tip and at the Gulf of Aqaba's mouth will be serving as the global hub for researchers, civil society actors and public policy-makers to work out future strategies to curb climate change.

"COP27 must not be the conference to abandon the 1.5°C target." 

"Climate change has left a particularly devastating legacy this year," said President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis in his speech at the World Leaders Summit of the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). He was referring in particular to the floods in Pakistan and the continuing drought and food crisis in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia.

In his speech, the head of the FDFA also reaffirmed Switzerland's intention to continue pursuing the climate targets set at COP21 in Paris despite the current energy crisis. Specifically, Switzerland is committed to halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

The critical importance of water management in Upper Egypt

Let us leave Sharm el-Sheikh for a while, crossing the Gulf of Suez to Hurghada, another coastal town on the Red Sea, and then travel several hundred kilometres, first to join the Nile at Qena, before arriving, 400 kilometres further on, at Aswan in Upper Egypt. There, in 2017, the FDFA's Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) launched the Potable Water Management Programme, which aims to improve the management of drinking water. The region is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

The Aswan Governorate was ravaged by a violent hurricane in November 2021. It caused flooding in the streets and power cuts to households, water towers and public services, and destroyed many houses. A great deal of poor areas of the governorate suffered critical infrastructure damage. In this particular case, Switzerland supported a small-scale project to renovate eleven homes. This project was implemented by the Egyptian NGO Misr El Kheir.

This kind of vulnerability is not the only problem threatening Aswan's existence. The city of Aswan is plagued in particular by a lack of adequate infrastructure and high levels of poverty. Water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure is in poor condition, leading to significant leakage, inefficient pumping and degraded water quality. This impacts the local communities adversely in many ways. 

The villages surrounding Aswan: the first victims of bad water management

The SDC's programme has focused on a number of villages surrounding Aswan that it identified as areas with poor housing conditions. The villages of Kattereya, Amberkab, Khor Awada and Al Nasseriya have benefited from Swiss expertise, allowing the most vulnerable communities to gain access to drinking water. The distribution was made possible by the establishment of several working groups within Aswan Water and Sanitation Company (AWSC), the local wastewater management enterprise. In the first phase, for example, the programme enabled 1,000 residents of the Khor Awada neighbourhood, connected at the time to illegal water supply sources, to install water meters and enjoy AWSC services.

The programme's second phase, currently under way, is specifically targeting two poor neighbourhoods – El Sail and, to an even greater extent, Khor Awada – whose water supply is particularly polluted. Taken together, there are 30,000 people who still do not have proper access to clean drinking water. Thanks to the SDC's work to raise awareness within local communities, in particular in the El Sail neighbourhood, schoolchildren have been learning about water-related and environmental issues, as well as how to ward off diseases through hygiene. But the target audience of these awareness-raising campaigns also includes over 6,000 students, teachers, women and young people. More broadly, the campaigns, as part of the SDC's programme's implementation, have the potential to indirectly benefit all the residents of the city of Aswan – more than 620,000 people.

Moreover, the programme also aims to improve how AWSC works. This involves working groups of experts within the company who are also striving to improve its energy efficiency and better manage its treatment costs. By gathering household consumption data and comparing the bills, AWSC has increased its coverage by 2%.

All of Egypt threatened by climate change

The SDC's Aswan programme is designed with the clear target of instilling best practice that could in the long run benefit all of Egypt, not just the Aswan Governorate.

Egypt is particularly exposed to the potential consequences of climate change. Farmland in particular faces the risks of flooding and rising temperatures. Crop yields are falling, and food insecurity, water stress and floods – including rising Mediterranean sea levels threatening coastal communities – are all risk factors looming on the horizon.

In step with the 2030 Agenda

The sixth sustainable development goal calls for access to water and sanitation for everyone, and for sustainable management of water resources. The SDC's Potable Water Management Programme in Egypt is thus in keeping with these 2030 Agenda demands. The programme also helps implement the International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24, as well as the second pillar of the Global Programme Water 2021–24.

Moreover, it is in line with Egypt's 2030 Vision, which aims in particular to preserve natural resources such as water and make sure they are used more effectively. This is to be done by building the institutional and legislative capacities of water resource management authorities, developing infrastructure conducive to using water sustainably, and raising the public's awareness of water conservation concerns.

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