The Mighty Nile, Jeopardized by Waste, Warming, Dam

Despite its importance, the Nile is still heavily polluted in Egypt | AFP
Despite its importance, the Nile is still heavily polluted in Egypt | AFP
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The Mighty Nile, Jeopardized by Waste, Warming, Dam

Despite its importance, the Nile is still heavily polluted in Egypt | AFP
Despite its importance, the Nile is still heavily polluted in Egypt | AFP

Early one morning in Cairo, volunteers paddle their kayaks across the Nile, fishing out garbage from the mighty waterway that gave birth to Egyptian civilisation but now faces multiple threats.

Egypt's lifeline since Pharaonic days and the source of 97 percent of its water is under massive strain from pollution and climate change and now the threat of a colossal dam being built far upstream in Ethiopia.

Undeterred, the flotilla of some 300 environmental activists do what they can -- in the past three years they say they have picked some 37 tonnes of cans, plastic bottles, disposable bags and other trash from the waters and shores along the Nile in Egypt.

"People have to understand that the Nile is as important -- if not more -- than the pyramids," said Mostafa Habib, 29, co-founder of the environmental group Very Nile.

"The generations coming after us will depend on it."

His fears echo those that millions worldwide share about other over-taxed and polluted rivers from the Mekong to the Mississippi -- an issue to be marked on World Water Day on March 22.

But few waterways face greater strain than the 6,600-kilometre (4,100-mile) Nile, the basin of which stretches across 11 countries -- Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

No country is more reliant on the Nile than Egypt, whose teeming population has just passed 100 million people -- over 90 percent of whom live along the river's banks.

Surrounded by a green valley full of palm trees, the north-flowing river is awash with boats of all sizes for tourism, fishing and leisure.

"All of us Egyptians benefit from the Nile, so cleaning it up is a way of giving back to my country," said one of the volunteers, Walied Mohamed, a 21-year-old university student.

"The Nile is the main source of drinking water for Egypt. We have no other major rivers flowing in our country."

- 'Question of life' -

Despite its importance, the Nile is still heavily polluted in Egypt by waste water and rubbish poured directly in to it, as well as agricultural runoff and industrial waste, with consequences for biodiversity, especially fishing, and human health, experts say.

Around 150 million tonnes of industrial waste are dumped into it every year, according to the state-run Environmental Affairs Agency.

Climate change spells another threat as rising sea levels are set to push Mediterranean salt water deep into the fertile Nile river delta, the nation's bread basket.

Researchers predict the country's already stretched agricultural sector could shrink by as much as 47 percent by 2060 as a result of saltwater intrusion.

Cotton, one of the most widely cultivated plants along the Nile, requires a lot of water.

Egypt also faces a nationwide fresh water shortage by 2025, according to the UN.

Already around seven percent of Egyptians lack access to clean drinking water and over eight million go without proper sanitation.

Hydrologists say people face water scarcity when their supply drops below 1,000 cubic metres per person annually.

Egyptian officials say in 2018 the individual share was 570 cubic metres and that this is expected to further drop to 500 cubic metres by 2025.

But aside from all the existing threats, there is another issue that terrifies Egypt's national planners and has even sparked fears of war.

More than 3,000 kilometres (2,000 miles) upstream on the Blue Nile, the main tributary, thousands of workers have toiled for almost a decade to build the $4.5-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, set to be Africa's largest.

Downstream countries, mainly Egypt but also drought-plagued Sudan, fear that the dam's 145-metre (475-foot) high wall will trap their essential water supplies once the giant reservoir, the size of London, starts being filled this summer.

Years of tensions between Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa have even seen Washington jump in to mediate rounds of crisis diplomacy.

For Ethiopia, one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, the dam is a prestige project and source of national pride.

In a country of 110 million where even the capital is plagued by blackouts, it promises to provide electricity by 2025 to the more than half of the population that now lives without it.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has insisted the project will not be stopped, warning that if necessary "we can deploy many millions".

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the United Nations last year that "the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt".

Meanwhile, the Egyptian volunteers push on in their kayaks and rowboats doing what they can to reduce the garbage piled up on the Nile's banks.

"We have a treasure and we really haven't taken care of it," said Nour Serry, a Cairo graphic designer and avid volunteer.

"As Egyptians, we should be more attuned to cleaning up our Nile and the surrounding environment. This is our source of life."



What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
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What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)

Hezbollah is facing mounting challenges in its eight-month long conflict with Israel in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, which unilaterally launched the fight in the South, believed that its war in support of Gaza would last a few days or week.

However, the Iran-backed party is now confronted with an open conflict that has transformed into a war of attrition of its forces and no one knows when the fight will end or whether it will develop into a wide-scale conflict against Hezbollah throughout Lebanon.

Experts said the greatest challenge Hezbollah is contending with is Israel’s ongoing assassination of its top commanders.

Political activist and Hezbollah critic Ali al-Amine said another challenge is the possibility that the conflict may spiral into a wide-scale war that the party does not want.

Such a war will lead to unpredictable changes and consequences, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Another challenge is the extent to which Hezbollah’s security has been compromised given Israel’s “unprecedented ability in killing several of the party’s top security, military and technical officials.”

“No one predicted that it would be this compromised,” he added.

Another challenge is related to morale and politics. The party will need to regain the trust of its supporters, who believed that it was capable of deterring any Israeli assault on border towns and villages, which have been devastated during the war, al-Amine remarked.

The destruction has prompted several supporters to reconsider whether they would invest in the South - a Hezbollah stronghold - after the war is over, he noted.

04 June 2024, Lebanon, Naqoura: A Hezbollah flag is seen hanged on rubble of destroyed houses caused by Israeli air raids in the Lebanese southern village of Naqoura, located at the Lebanese-Israeli border. (Marwan Naamani/dpa)

Political and strategic affairs researcher retired general Khalil al-Helou said the greatest challenge faced by Hezbollah is the incessant assassination of its top commanders and Israel’s targeted strikes against its positions in the South.

The continuation of the fight will turn the war into one of attrition against the party, he told Asharq Al-Awsat, while dismissing Hezbollah’s shooting down of four Israeli drones.

Another challenge is that Hezbollah is greatly outgunned by Israel, especially in terms of the artillery at the country’s disposal and its air power. Hezbollah doesn’t possess artillery that can rival Israel’s.

Israel also boasts drones that can carry out precise hits, while the party has suicide drones, which can be effective, but it is unknown if they are successful in hitting their targets, Helou said.

Head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research retired general Hisham Jaber said the greatest threat faced by Hezbollah is the possibility that Israel could invade Lebanon.

Hezbollah will definitely not instigate such a war, he told Asharq al-Awsat, but Israel prefers such a scenario.

Should a large-scale war happen, the destruction and casualties will be immense, and Hezbollah will be held responsible for this by internal Lebanese parties, he explained.

“Yes, Israel is being depleted and it is more in crisis than Lebanon, but the attrition is also affecting Hezbollah on all levels,” he added.

“Despite the challenges, Hezbollah cannot stop the war, because it will appear defeated. So, the war will continue and expand in the coming months, but it will not cross a certain line because ultimately a wide-scale war will lead to Iran and the United States’ involvement and they both don’t want that,” he stated.