August 25, 2005
Water, Business & Privatisation
A fine comment in The Financial Times today on water services privatisation that has no small meaning for the MENA region.
A subject of long interest to me, as some know, dating back to my time in Egypt where I was appaled at the sheer madness of Egypt's water policies.
Well, actually I spent much of my time appalled by everything in Egypt, but that is another matter.
It is an abiding shame that the idiot anti-globalisation fools opposed sensible privatisation of water services under emotive and illiterate cries of "human rights" and the like, while all too typically ignoring the fact of real costs of water services which get borne by the poor one way or another.
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Egypt's water system is indeed a mess, though kindly EU govts keep shelling out for new treatment plants to improve the situation.
But while the water treatment/distribution industry could well do with restructuring, it does seem that a lot of the problem lies not in the status of the firms involved, but actually in agriculture. Egyptian pricing policies on certain foodstuffs, its relationship with the US, and the patchwork nature of its various attempts at liberalisation, have created a situation where it makes more sense for Egyptian farmers to grow rice than wheat, even though it makes no sense in terms of the cost of water. On top of that, water distribution for farming is done for little or no cost - farmers just rent a pump to raise the water to their fields from (evaporation-prone) irrigation canals: water itself costs nothing for them. Which hardly makes for sensible crop-growing: hence the rice.
Less than idea for a water-stresed country. But then it's always so much easier to threaten the other Nile riparians with war if they disagree...
Posted by: yinshuisiyuan at August 25, 2005 09:19 PM
Oh let me add to this, as to make things worse the irrigation canals, even the main feeders are largely just unlined ditches, leading to major seepage losses. This brilliantly is leading to a rising water table and, just to add to the already brilliantly fucked situaiton, pulling up salt from a dead sea salt pan some 60 meters down (as I recall - has been several years).
Salinisation of the soil of course is leading to decreased yields, indirectly leading to increased costs via use of fertilisers, more water usage to flush....
The Egptian situ is just so stunningly fucked up that one boggles.
I confess I was thinking in terms of Egypt not of the specific urban water issue but the overall system. Whenever I think abou this, I have to conclude by thanking God I am not an Egyptian. Above all a poor goddamned farmer in Upper Egypt.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 26, 2005 06:10 AM
If somebody else (apparently Americans and Europeans) keep bailing out the Egyptians out, there's no incentive to make the necessary improvements. The situation is, actually, somewhat similar in the southwestern U.S.--agricultural water is massively subsidized (agriculture gets water at something like 5% of the price paid by cities--obviously way below the cost). Many of the same problems persist: unlined irrigation ditches, etc. What puzzles me is that the farmers here are an important organied political force--what do Egyptians have that has Westerners keep feeding them freebies?
Posted by: kao_hsien_chih at August 26, 2005 05:20 PM