Water supply and sanitation in Egypt
|Egypt: Water and Sanitation|
|Access to an improved water source||99% (2010)|
|Access to improved sanitation||95% (2010)|
|Continuity of supply (%)||Often inermittent|
|Average urban water use (liter/capita/day)||installed capacity varied from 70 in Upper Egypt to 330 in Cairo in 2006 |
|Average urban water tariff (US$/m³)||0.05|
|Share of household metering||low|
|Investment in water supply and sanitation||3 billion Egyptian Pounds (US$ 490 million) (2012) |
|Investment financing||About 90% by the government from current revenues, about 10% by external loans and grants, no self-financing by utilities through tariff revenues|
|Decentralization to municipalities||No|
|National Water and sanitation company||Holding Company for Water and Wastewater|
|Water and sanitation regulator||Egyptian Water Regulatory Agency|
|Responsibility for policy setting||Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities|
|Number of urban service providers||23 subsidiaries of the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater|
|Number of rural service providers||n/a|
This article covers drinking water supply and sanitation in Egypt. For questions related to the water balance, water pollution, irrigation, flood control or trans-boundary water issues please see Water resources management in modern Egypt.
This article was last substantially updated in October 2012.
Drinking water supply and sanitation in Egypt is characterized by both achievements and challenges. Among the achievements are an increase of piped water supply between 1990 and 2010 from 89% to 100% in urban areas and from 39% to 93% in rural areas despite rapid population growth; the elimination of open defecation in rural areas during the same period; and in general a relatively high level of investment in infrastructure. Access to an improved water source in Egypt is now practically universal with a rate of 99%. On the institutional side, the regulation and service provision have been separated to some extent through the creation of a national Holding Company for Water and Wastewater in 2004, and of an economic regulator, the Egyptian Water Regulatory Agency (EWRA), in 2006.
However, many challenges remain. Only about one half of the population is connected to sanitary sewers. Partly because of low sanitation coverage about 17,000 children die each year because of diarrhea. Another challenge is low cost recovery due to water tariffs that are among the lowest in the world. This in turn requires government subsidies even for operating costs, a situation that has been aggravated by salary increases without tariff increases after the Arab Spring. Poor operation of facilities, such as water and wastewater treatment plants, as well as limited government accountability and transparency, are also issues.
Foreign aid from the United States, the European Union, France, Germany, the World Bank and other donors remains important, both in terms of financing and in terms of technical assistance. Western donors also have long promoted sector reforms aiming at higher levels of cost recovery and more efficient service provision. Private sector participation has so far been limited mainly to Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) projects for treatment plants.
- 1 Access
- 2 Service quality
- 3 Water resources
- 4 Water use and hygiene behavior
- 5 Infrastructure
- 6 History
- 6.1 From the 19th century to contemporary Egypt
- 6.2 Economic opening and the arrival of foreign aid in the 1970s
- 6.3 The 1981 reforms: Reduced fragmentation and creation of public companies
- 6.4 The 2004 reforms: Creation of the Holding Company and private sector participation
- 6.5 Impact of the Arab Spring (2011 onwards)
- 7 Responsibility for water supply and sanitation
- 8 Economic efficiency
- 9 Financial aspects
- 10 External cooperation
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
There are conflicting figures about the number of people with access to safe water, and especially the number of people with access to sanitation. According to the official UN figures used to monitor the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, 99% of Egyptians had access to an improved water source and 94% had access to improved sanitation in 2008.
|Access to Water and Sanitation in Egypt (2010)|
(43% of the population)
(57% of the population)
|Sewage||n/a||n/a||50% (2006 census)|
According to one source, Egypt has reached the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without proper access to safe water and sanitation by 2015 ahead of time in 2008. However, according to the government report of the same year, Egypt was still off track to achieve the sanitation target in rural areas, especially in Upper Egypt and in frontier governorates. Soakaway latrines, which are common in rural areas, often do not work properly due to the high groundwater table, infrequent emptying and cracks in the walls. Thus sewage leaks out and contaminates the surrounding streets, canals, and groundwater. Trucks that empty latrines and septic tanks do not necessarily discharge septage into wastewater treatment plants, but rather dump the content in the environment.
Continuity of supply
According to the government's National Research Center, 40 percent of Cairo's inhabitants do not get water for more than three hours per day and three large districts do not receive any piped water. In 2008 demonstrations concerning this issue took place in Suez, where 500 people blocked a main road to Cairo. According to a survey carried out prior to 2006 in governorate of Fayoum, 46% of households complained about low water pressure, 30% about frequent water cuts and 22% complained that water is not available during day time. These problems lead many people to use water from canals which could be hazardous to health. Service quality is particularly poor in mature informal districts where about 20% of the Egyptian population lives.
Drinking water quality
It is estimated that each year about 17,000 children die from diarrhea. One reason is that drinking water quality is often below standards. Some water treatment plants are not maintained properly and are thus inefficient in removing parasites, viruses and other parasitic microorganisms. In 2009, a study by the Ministry of Health showed that drinking water for half a million people in Asiut was unfit for human consumption. As of June 2011, nothing had been done to address the problem. Chlorination systems of wells, which had been installed years ago because high levels of bacteria had been detected in the groundwater, failed for lack of maintenance and have been shut down so that untreated water is provided to the residents. In the village Wardan in North Giza, the water became very dark in 2007. The authorities declared that they were not responsible, claiming that illegal shallow wells or boosters that some residents installed to ensure water availability and pressure, are responsible for the problem. According to the Ministry of Environment, "there is a lack of coordination among institutions responsible for monitoring water quality and an absence of a unified system of analysis, techniques and methodologies".
Egypt had 372 municipal wastewater treatment plants in 2012, treating an average of 10.1 million cubic meters per day. The capacity of Egypt's wastewater treatment plants was more than 11 million cubic meters per day, serving more than 18 million people. The number has increased 10 times between 1985 and 2005. The amount of water which is released into the Nile is 3.8 billion m³ per year, out of which only 35% was treated properly as of 2004.
The largest wastewater treatment plant in Egypt is located in Gabal el Asfar to the Northeast of Cairo, serving about 9 million people and treating 2 million cubic meters per day in 2009. The plant discharges into the Belbeis Drain and then into Bahr El Baqar Drain (BBD), which in turn drains to Lake Manzala 170 km away from Cairo. The drain and Lake Manzala had been identified as "black spots" by the Egyptian Environmental Action Plan back in 1992. The quality of water improved substantially after the completion of the first stage of the plant in 1999, but the drain and the lake are still environmentally fragile. Tendering for further expansion of the plant with financing from the African Development Bank began in 2011. It would increase its capacity to 2.5 million cubic meters per day. A planned third stage would bring capacity to 3 million cubic meters per day, serving 12 million people and making Gabal al Asfar one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world.
Egypt’s main source of freshwater is the Nile River. The river supplies 56.8 billion m³ of freshwater every year, which represents 97% of all renewable water resources in Egypt. Average rainfall in Egypt is estimated at 18 mm or 1.8 billion m³ per year. Furthermore, Egypt has four different groundwater aquifers: the Nile Aquifer, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, the Moghra Aquifer and the Coastal Aquifer.
Since 2005, Egypt is classified as a water scarce country as it has less than 1000 m³ of fresh water per year per capita. Furthermore, it is forecasted that in 2025 the population will reach 95 million, which would mean a per capita share of only 600 m³ per year.
Water use and hygiene behavior
At the national level, total domestic water use in Egypt is estimated at about 5.5 billion m³ per year or 8% of total water use. This corresponds to an average of about 200 liter per capita per day (l/c/d), or almost twice as much as in Germany. However, actual domestic water use is lower because of network losses, and furthermore it varies considerably between different localities in Egypt. For example, the installed drinking water supply capacity ranges from 70 l/c/d in Upper Egypt to 330 l/c/d in Cairo. Water consumption in Alexandria is about 300 l/c/d.
At the local level, a study on water and sanitation in two villages in the Nile Delta conducted in the late 1980s provides some insights into water use and hygiene behavior in rural areas at the time. The inhabitants had access to three water sources: piped water from household connections or public standpipes; shallow wells with handpumps; and canal water. Canals were used by many women for laundry and washing domestic utensils, and for cleaning vegetables and grain. Women preferred canal water to groundwater because canal water was softer and was not brackish. The surroundings of standpipes were dirty and the residents did not feel responsible to maintain them, seeing this as a responsibility of the government. Shallow wells were contaminated. There was no sewerage and no system to dispose greywater. Household latrines were used primarily by women. Men used sanitary facilities at mosques or defecated in canals. Children defecated openly in the streets or fields. Emptying of latrines was done by donkey carts or trucks which empty their load into canals. As a result of conditions like these infant mortality remained high despite the government's provision of water through standpipes. More recent survey data show that hygiene behavior has improved since then at the national level: The rate of open defecation in rural areas declined from 17% in 1990 to less than 1% in 2005. While provision of water supply alone had only a limited impact on child mortality, subsequent improvements in sanitation and hygiene behavior contributed to significantly reduce child mortality from 90/1000 births in 1990 to 23 in 2008.
As of 2008, there were 153 large and 817 small drinking water treatment plants, as well as 239 wastewater treatment plants. The length of the water distribution networks was 107,000 km and the length of the wastewater collection network was 29,000 km.
From the 19th century to contemporary Egypt
The first modern water companies in Egypt were created by European private investors in Alexandria and Cairo in the 1860s under the Khedivate of Egypt. At the same time, the French-British Suez Canal Company operated, alongside the Suez Canal itself, the drinking water supply for the Suez Canal cities Port Said, Suez and Ismailia, the latter city having been created by the company.
The Cairo and Alexandria water companies were nationalized in 1956, along with the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the socialist government of Gamal Abdel Nasser. For the promotion of investments in provincial cities, two state agencies were created, one in charge of water supply and one in charge of sanitation.
Economic opening and the arrival of foreign aid in the 1970s
With the economic opening of Egypt under the government of Anwar Sadat in the 1970s (Infitah) substantial foreign aid arrived. In particular, USAID provided assistance for water supply and sanitation in Greater Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal cities. Provincial cities and rural areas, however, were initially neglected. About half of the investments undertaken at that time were made in Cairo and Alexandria, although only a quarter of the population lived there.
Achievements. As a result of massive externally funded investments access to water supply and sanitation increased substantially during the next decades. For example, water production capacity increased from 5.5 million cubic meters per day in 1982 to 21 million in 2004 and per capita water consumption increased from 130 to 275 liter per day during the same period.
Challenges. However, the organizations in charge of operating and maintaining the infrastructure were weak in terms of financial and human resources, especially in provincial Egypt, so that service quality remained poor. A World Bank sector study in the late 1970s observed “dismal conditions”, such as
“(i) fragmentation of operational responsibility;
(ii) poor maintenance and operation;
(iii) excessive water losses;
(iv) inadequate investment level;
(v) shortage of skilled staff; and
(vi) low tariffs and inadequate cost recovery.”
Concerning inadequate cost recovery, in provincial Egypt only about one-third of the operating cost was recovered. Rural water supply was mostly through standpipes that provided water for free. All the meagre revenues were transferred to the Central Government, which in turn provided subsidies that were insufficient for proper operation and maintenance.
Only one of the six problems diagnosed in the 1970s has been resolved: investment levels have substantially increased and have remained high. However, the other problems still largely prevail more than three decades later despite two sector reforms carried out in 1981 and 2004.
Sector fragmentation and its consequences. The structure of the drinking water supply sector in the mid-1970s illustrates the problem of fragmentation:
- In Cairo and Alexandria water infrastructure was owned and operated by local water authorities - the Alexandria Water General Authority (AWGA) and the General Organization for Greater Cairo Water Supply (GOGCWS);
- in the Suez Canal cities, both water and sewer infrastructure were owned and operated by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA);
- the General Organization for Potable Water (GOPW) built and operated seven regional water systems, mainly in the Nile delta provinces;
- 115 municipalities owned and operated water systems in the larger provincial towns; and
- governorate housing directorates operated about 1250 rural water supply systems relying on boreholes or wells serving those areas not covered by municipalities or GOPW.
The responsibility for wastewater collection and disposal systems was almost equally fragmented. It consisted of:
- 17 municipal systems of which Cairo's and Alexandria's were by far the largest. They were owned and operated by the General Organization for Greater Cairo Sanitary Drainage (GOGCSD) and the Alexandria General Organization for Sanitary Drainage (AGOSD), respectively.
- In provincial Egypt, investment in sewerage systems was the responsibility of the General Organization for Sewerage and Sanitary Drainage (GOSSD).
- Operation of such systems, however, was the responsibility of municipalities.
The planning of infrastructure for water supply and sanitation was separated between two organizations, GOPW and GOSSD. As a result, some towns or neighborhoods received access to piped water supply, but not to sewers, which led to a deterioration of the hygiene situation.
The 1981 reforms: Reduced fragmentation and creation of public companies
To remedy this situation, donors pushed for a sector reform. In order to promote the reforms they also proposed to finance two projects in the Nile Delta, one in Beheira Governorate financed by the World Bank and one in Kafr el-Sheikh Governorate financed by Germany.
The government initiated the reform in 1981 with two key elements: First, it merged the water and sanitation investment agencies GOPW and GOSSD in a single new entity called NOPWASD. Second, it promoted the creation of autonomous water and wastewater companies in each governorate, following the example of the existing companies in Cairo and Alexandria. However, the central government did not push hard for their creation. Two decades later only three such companies were created.
The Water Companies in the Nile Delta. The governor of Beheira governorate, located next to Alexandria, created the first such company, the Beheira Water Company, by decree in 1981. With financing from the World Bank and France, facilities in the governorate were renovated and expanded. This led to some positive results: water supply became continuous and cost recovery for operating costs was achieved. However, the project took 13 years to complete, 7 years longer than expected and experienced 67 percent cost overruns.
Two more water companies were created in the late 1980s, both also in the Nile Delta governorates and under the influence of external financiers: the Damietta water company with support from the World Bank and the Kafr el-Sheikh water and wastewater company with support from Germany. In other governorates, such as in Daqahliya, resistance from the governors and from NOPWASD prevented the creation of a water company despite pressure by external donors.
The three water companies were less successful than expected. A 1991 USAID report concluded:
“These water companies were intended to be autonomous, to generate revenues sufficient to cover operation and maintenance costs and to have flexibility in personnel actions. The three companies have not attained the intended goals. (…) The water companies are not as independent or as decentralized as was intended, are not financially viable.”
Public Economic Authorities in other governorates. Seven other governorates (Aswan Governorate, Minya Governorate, Beni Suef Governorate, Faiyum Governorate, Dakahlia Governorate, Gharbia Governorate and Sharqia Governorate) created Public Economic Authorities for water supply which took over the responsibility to operate water supply systems from the former regional systems that had been operated by GOPW. These units had less scope for financial and managerial autonomy than the water companies.
National Water Pricing Policy. In 1985 the government adopted a National Water Pricing Policy with the objective to gradually reach full operation and maintenance cost recovery for water by 1991. The policy also introduced a sewer surcharge set at just 10% of the water bill. The policy also provided for incentives (10 percent of total income) in the form of bonuses to workers in the water industry. However, tariffs were not increased as foreseen by the policy.
Remaining challenges. In 2000, almost 10 years later, things had not much changed. A report by NOPWASD stated that institutional capacity and cost recovery in the sector remained low. Infrastructure continued to fall into disrepair, while the entities in charge of water supply and sewerage systems ran large deficits that were only partly covered through subsidies. At that time, the Alexandria Water Company was the only water company in Egypt to cover its operating costs. The report concluded that there was a “duplication of administrative entities, low cost recovery ratios, and lack of qualified management and modern management systems”. A few years later, another government report observed that water and wastewater service providers were overstaffed with poorly qualified and poorly paid employees, that there was no system to evaluate staff performance, that billing and collection were poor and done manually, that there was no system to respond to citizen complaints, and no procedures for maintenance.
The 2004 reforms: Creation of the Holding Company and private sector participation
Genesis of the reforms. When donors expressed their dissatisfaction with the poor performance of the sector, the government initiated another sector reform that, again, aimed at improving service quality, gradually attaining a financial equilibrium and improving staff skills. The Ministry of Housing charged NOPWASD with the elaboration of a diagnostic study and recommendations for reforms. This was to be done under the label of decentralization through the creation of commercially oriented companies at the governorate level, just as recommended two decades earlier. However, two new elements were added to the reforms: private sector participation and autonomous regulation.
The study was presented to the Cabinet of Ministers in 1998. The Cabinet charged the Ministry of Housing with the elaboration of two documents: a decree on the reorganization of the water and wastewater sector, as well as a law on public utility concessions for water and wastewater. Both were initially approved in principle by Cabinet in 2000. However, the water concession law was never passed. A decree for the creation of a regulatory agency was also circulated. The process of enacting the reforms took many more years. During this time the decree on the reorganization of the sector was modified, creating a Holding Company that would de facto compete with NOPWASD.
Creation of the Holding Company. In April 2004 the decree that created the Holding Company, which was to become a central institution of the sector, was enacted. The existing 7 water and wastewater companies (2 in Cairo, 2 in Alexandria, and the 3 in the Nile Delta) as well as the existing 7 Public Economic Authorities were all transformed into affiliated companies of the Holding Company. While the Holding Company did not become responsible for investment, it was responsible for the acquisition of equipment to modernize its affiliate companies and for training their staff. Also, it became a key interlocutor for foreign donors.
Creation of a regulatory agency. In 2006 the sector reforms were complemented by the creation of a regulatory agency, the Egyptian Water Regulatory Agency. The creation of an “autonomous” regulatory agency for utilities was a standard recommendation made by donors for infrastructure sector reforms in developing countries at that time. The agency's tasks include reviewing proposals for tariff adjustments, monitoring the application of technical standards and reviewing customer complaints. The agency also has a mandate to both promote and regulate private sector participation. These tasks overlap with the tasks of other agencies, such as the Holding Company (which also reviews proposals for tariff adjustments, alongside the Ministry of Housing and the Cabinet), the public companies (which also review complaints) and the PPP Central Unit (which also promotes private sector participation). Five years after its creation, the regulatory agency remains a relatively weak and marginal entity whose autonomy is doubtful.
Private sector participation. In 2006 the government created a Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Central Unit in the Ministry of Finance to promote private greenfield investments in infrastructure across various sectors. In the water sector, the unit promoted large Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) projects for new wastewater treatment plants in Cairo and Alexandria. The unit left the operation of the utilities untouched.
Implementing the reforms. With the passing of the reforms, tariffs in Greater Cairo were increased from an extremely low base level by 100% as a signal to donors that the reforms were serious. The Holding Company started a program to replace 800,000 non-functioning meters, created a central laboratory, procured SCADA and GIS systems for the public companies and established customer hotlines. Furthermore, the Holding Company established a performance benchmarking system including bonus payments that are paid to companies that improve their performance. As a result of the reforms, donors re-engaged in the sector.
Unresolved challenges. While the reforms addressed some issues, others remain unresolved. For example, sector fragmentation was not actually reduced. No organization was dissolved; instead several new organizations were created. Cost recovery is still very low; overstaffing has apparently even increased from about 6.5 employees per 1000 connections in the early 2000s to about 10 in 2008. Also, the separation of responsibilities for investment and operation in provincial Egypt has not been addressed: NOPWASD remains in charge of investment, while the Affiliated Companies are only in charge of operation.
Overcoming the separation of investment and operation?. In the absence of a comprehensive reform, European donors have begun to address this issue at the project level. Under the Improved Water and Sanitation Program (IWSP), approved in 2009, the water and sanitation companies will be responsible for carrying out investments, thus by-passing NOPWASD. IWSP is jointly funded by four European financiers and the Egyptian government with a volume of 295 million Euro for its first phase. However, the World Bank under its Integrated Sanitation and Sewerage Infrastructure Project approved in 2008 (USD 320m in two phases) continues to channel investments through NOPWASD.
Impact of the Arab Spring (2011 onwards)
The Arab spring temporarily diverted policy attention away from sector reforms, while the financial situation of the Egyptian water utilities deteriorated because of wage increases that were not fully compensated through higher subsidies. Furthermore, the bill collection ratio further declined. In 2012, the government of Mohamed Morsi created a Ministry of Water and Sanitation, which was formerly part of the Ministry of Housing.
Responsibility for water supply and sanitation
Policy and regulation
Egyptian water sector policies are set by several ministries. The Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities, created in 2012, took over its functions from the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities that had previously been in charge of the sector. The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (previously called Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources) is in charge of water resources management and irrigation. The Ministry of Health and Population is responsible for monitoring drinking water quality. The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency is responsible for environmental affairs and the assessment and monitoring of water use. The Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, founded by decree in 2004, is responsible for the financial and technical sustainability to the Governorate-based utilities. The Egyptian Water Regulatory Agency (EWRA), established in 2006, is in charge of the economic and technical regulation of utilities.
After a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur for the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation in 2009, she noted limited transparency and accountability of the government to its citizens concerning water and sanitation. She received numerous accounts of complaints to the authorities about drinking water supply that remained without a response. She noted that it was "exceedingly difficult to obtain information about the quality of (...) drinking water" and "there was confusion about where to send complaints" - the Holding Company, the Ministry of Health or the Regulatory Agency. "The overlapping responsibilities create a situation where no institution considers itself accountable for the problem in question", she concluded, adding that "the overall lack of transparency and access to information in the water and sanitation sectors creates an atmosphere of suspicion, which is characterized by a lack of confidence in the quality of drinking water and overall distrust of the Government and the Holding Company."
The Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities approved a Water and Wastewater Sector Policy Paper in September 2010, which enshrines the human right to water in the policy. As of 2012, the Ministry was in the process of elaborating a national strategy based on the policy paper, including several sub-strategies on topics such as tariffs, informal settlement and rural sanitation.
The Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities supervises all institutions in charge of providing water and sanitation services. Broadly speaking, these are two types of institutions: those in charge of investment and those in charge of operation. However, this separation is not always clear-cut, since some companies in charge of operation also carry out investments.
Three institutions are in charge of planning and supervision of infrastructure construction:
- the Cairo and Alexandria Potable Water Organisation (CAPWO) for the country's two largest cities,
- The National Organisation for Potable Water and Sanitary Drainage (NOPWASD) for the rest of the country excluding new communities, and
- The New Urban Communities Authority is responsible for water supply and sanitation investments in new communities, of which 22 with five million inhabitants have been built so far alongside with 29 drinking water plants, 10,000 km of water pipelines, 7,000 km of sewer pipelines and 26 wastewater plants.
The Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW) and its 26 affiliated companies are in charge of operation and maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure. The Holding Company owns all water and sanitation infrastructure in Egypt. Its affiliated companies include:
- The General Organization for Greater Cairo Water Supply (GOGCWS)
- The Cairo General Organization for Sewerage and Drainage (CGOSD)
- The Alexandria Water Company, AWCO
- The Alexandria Sewer and Drainage Company (ASDCO)
- 22 affiliated companies, each covering one or more of Egypt's 29 governorates and being in charge of both water supply and sewerage. The companies that cover several governorates include one for the Canal governorates (Suez, Port Said and Ismailia), and one for the Sinai (North and South Sinai governorates).
In some governorates water and sewer services are still provided directly by the Holding Company. It is envisaged to establish affiliated companies in all governorates, bringing the total number of affiliated companies to 28.
Private sector participation
The government's support for private sector participation in water supply and sanitation is focused on build-operate-transfer (BOT) for wastewater treatment plants, through which private finance is mobilized. This approach is limited to Cairo and Alexandria where external donors had become less keen to provide assistance. The first BOT wastewater for US$ 160 million for the New Cairo wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 250,000 m3/day was awarded in 2010 and is due to be completed at the end of 2012. Contracts for another large wastewater treatment plant, the upgrade of the 1.2 million m3/day Abu Rawash plant for US$ 500 million, was in the prequalification process in November 2012. The Holding Company for Water and Wastewater also plans to launch BOTs for seawater desalination on the Red Sea and the Sinai, together with the government's Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) unit that would provide a sovereign guarantee. The private sector has also become involved in other functions beyond construction and consulting. For example, in Cairo, Suez and Ismailia a private company has been engaged to inspect water and wastewater networks, reduce leakage and install water meters.
The share of non-revenue water in Egypt was estimated at 34% in 2005. Other sources estimated the level at 40-50%. The good practice benchmark in the region is in Tunisia where the level of non-revenue water is 18%.
Egyptian utilities are overstaffed. They employed 98,500 staff in 2008 for 9.5 million subscribers, equivalent to more than 10 employees per 1000 connections. Good practice for water and sanitation utilities is to have less than 5 employees.
Water and sewer tariffs in Egypt are among the lowest in the world. Despite their affordability, almost half the bills are not paid and politicians are reluctant to increase tariffs, especially since the Arab Spring. Thus only a fraction of costs is recovered through revenues from tariffs. The shortfall in revenues is partly made up by government subsidies for investment and operations at the tune of USD 2.5bn per year, of which only about 10 percent is financed by external donors.
Tariffs and other costs
Tariff level. Water and sewer tariffs in Egypt are very low in international comparison. Customer metering is low and where meters exist they often do not work, so that vast majority of urban water consumers are still charged a flat rate which is estimated according to the kind of building. In Cairo water tariffs were 29 piastres (about 5 US cents) per m3 in 2008. Sewerage is charged as a 25% surcharge to the water bill. According to a 2009 study by GIZ, tariffs varied between 0.04 EUR per m3 in Gharbiya Governorate to 0.07 EUR per m3 in Alexandria. Based on a tariff of 5 US Cents per m3 and a consumption of 200 liter per capita and day, which is higher than in Central Europe, the monthly water bill of a family of five amounts only to the equivalent of USD 1.50.
Tariff structure. There are numerous customer classifications resulting in complex tariffs that vary, among others, depending on the customer’s line of business, the effluent produced by the customer, the seasonality of water use, and a customer’s distance from the water mains. Many water tariffs are uniform, i.e. the same tariff applies for each unit of consumption, if the water use is metered at all. Some affiliated companies have increasing-block tariffs for metered customers, i.e. the unit rate increases with consumption. But even in this case there the amount of water included in the first blocks is so large that there is little incentive to save water.
Tariff setting. Tariffs are set centrally and are almost the same all over Egypt. In certain areas they were raised after the reforms of 2005. Tariff increases have to be approved by the holding company, the national water regulatory agency EWRA, the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation, the Cabinet of Ministers, the President of the Republic and the National Assembly. Tariffs have not been increased since 1992. Since the Arab Spring tariff increases have become even more difficult to approve.
Affordability. According to a study done by the consulting firm Chemonics for the EU in 2009, a household consuming 218 liter per capita per day paid a water and sewer bill equivalent to 0.81% of total household expenditure. Only 11% of households (constituting 7.4% of the population) spent over 1% on water and wastewater.
Connection fees. Connection fees are a significant expenditure for households. In poor areas, connection fees are reduced and can be paid in instalments through a revolving fund established by the Holding Company, UNICEF and USAID.
Prices paid to water vendors. In some slums the majority of residents does not have legal access to water, and most people get water from tankers or water points. Because residents lack legal title over the land that they occupy, they are unable to connect legally to the water and sanitation network. Water provided by tankers costs two to three Egyptian pounds for 25 litres, approximately 300 times more than the tariff for piped water.
Costs of emptying septic tanks. The cost of emptying septic tanks can be significant. Some people avoid using their septic tanks, because if they do the tank fills up more quickly and they must pay to empty it more often. They thus continue to pollute the surrounding environment, although they have sanitation facilities at home.
Cost recovery and subsidies
The Egyptian government highly subsidizes the sector. The estimates of the degree of cost recovery vary depending on the source of information, the years analyzed and the definition of costs. According to one estimate dating from prior to 2007, cost recovery was only 20%, with tariffs at 0.23 EP per m3 and costs at 1.10 EP per m3. According to another estimate, between 1982 and 2004 the government spent 65 billion Egyptian pounds (about 10.73 billion USD at the exchange rate of 2004) for water supply and sanitation, of which 40% was recovered through tariff revenues. According to a 2012 study by USAID, the recovery of operation and maintenance costs, excluding depreciation, through operating revenues was 95% for water supply and sanitation on average, ranging from 31% in Sinai to 134% in Beheira. The average bill collection rate was only 57%, ranging from 48% in Cairo to 85% in Beni Suef.
Investment and financing
Investments in water supply and sanitation for Egypt exceeded USD 9.15 bn over the 20 years prior to 2007. They stood at USD 2.2bn in 2009/2010, suggesting a significant increase in investment over the previous years. However, investment declined again substantially to 4 billion Egyptian Pound (US$ 650 million) in 2011 and 3 billion Egyptian Pound (US$ 490 million) in 2012. The National Master Plan for Water Supply and Sanitation conservatively estimates the investment needs for the 30 years after 2007 at about Euro 20bn, out of which almost two thirds will be required for sanitation.
Financing. Investments are mostly financed by the government with the support of external donors. The private sector makes a limited contribution to finance, mostly through a single BOT that has so far been awarded for a US$ 160 million wastewater treatment plant. Between 2005 and 2010 Egypt received more than 1bn Euro in external aid for water supply and sanitation, out of which 30% were grants and the remainder soft loans with an average interest rate of 1%. This corresponds to EUR 200 million per year, corresponding to only about 10% of the government's investment budget for the sector in 2009/10. According to the Ministry of Housing, government subsidies to water and wastewater utilities amounted to more than 15 billion Egyptian pounds (USD 2.5bn) in 2009/10, including EP 13.4bn (USD 2.2bn) investment subsidies, EP 0.66 bn (USD 0.1bn) operating subsidies and EP 1 bn (USD 0.2bn) repair and rehabilitation subsidies.
The European Union, France, Germany, the United States and the World Bank are among the most important external cooperation partners in the Egyptian water and sanitation sector in terms of funding. Several other bilateral donors, as well as UNDP and UNICEF, are also active in the sector.
European donors increasingly fund projects jointly under the EU's Neighborhood Investment Facility (NIF), which supports the Improved Water and Wastewater Services Program (IWSP) in four governorates in the Delta during its first phase (Gharbia, Sharkia, Damietta, and Beheira) and four governorates in Upper Egypt during its second phase. IWSP pools loans from Germany, France and the European Investment Bank as well as a grant from the European Commission, which is used as an incentive for the other donors to pool their loans and to thus harmonize their procedures.
There is a water donor group co-chaired by the EU and the Netherlands. As of 2012, the Netherlands was in the process of phasing out its assistance to the water and sanitation sector.
The European Union provides budget support in the form of grants, institutional strengthening, the support of a National Master Plan for Water Supply and Sanitation, as well as financing for a radio network and water meters. Budget support is through a so-called Water Sector Reform Programme, including a first phase of 80 million Euro (2005–2009) and a second phase of 120 million Euro (2011–2015). Funds for institutional strengthening are provided to the Egyptian Water Regulatory Authority (6m Euro for 2008–2010 and 1.5m for 2011–2013) and the Holding Company (1.5m Euro for 2011–2013). The EU also co-finances investment jointly funded with bilateral European donors and the European Investment Bank, in particular the Improved Water and Wastewater Services Program IWSP.
Germany provides investment finance and technical assistance for projects in Qena and Kafr El Sheikh, as well as for the IWSP (see above), for which KfW is the lead donor. The technical cooperation agency GIZ is active in strengthening the capacity of the Holding Company and the two affiliated companies in Qena and Kafr el Sheikh.
The United States has supported the development of Egypt’s water and sanitation sector since the early 1980s. It provided support to the sector reforms that established the holding company and the regulatory agency. USAID funded wastewater treatment plants throughout the country, including in Alexandria where it financed the expansion of the wastewater collection and treatment system to elimination raw wastewater discharge into the sea. It also financed technical assistance to the Alexandria General Water Authority (AGWA) through a strategic plan, training and a management information system. It also financed water treatment plants in villages in Minya and Beni Suef Governorate as well as in Mansoura City, the capital of Dakahlia Governorate, all in the Nile Delta. In 2008 USAID began two technical assistance projects, one to provide managerial systems and tools to utilities, the other aimed at "developing a strategic plan for the sector", "creating a framework for public-private partnerships", and "improving investment planning" at the national level.
The Integrated Sanitation and Sewerage Infrastructure Project was approved in 2008 and is expected to end in 2014. Its main objective is the sustainable improvement of the sanitation and environmental conditions as well as the water quality in the three Delta Governorates of Beheira, Gharbia and Kafr El-Sheikh. Furthermore, a local result-based monitoring and evaluation system will be established in order to improve sanitation coverage and thus environmental and health conditions. The project also contains a component of institutional development and capacity building. According to the World Bank, the project is the first large scale effort to address rural sanitation in Egypt. The total cost of the project is 201.5 million USD, out of which the World Bank provides more than half (120 million USD). A second phase of the project, extending it to four more governorates (Menoufia and Sharkia in the Delta, Assiut and Sohag in Upper Egypt) was approved in 2011 with a volume of 200 million USD.
The following other external partners were active in the sector in 2008:
- Denmark provided technical assistance to the Aswan Water and Wastewater Company,
- Italy provided aassistance to the Cairo Water Company to procure leak detection equipment and provide training,
- Japan provided technical assistance to the Sharqia Water and Wastewater Company, and
- The Netherlands supported an Integrated Sanitation Project. As of 2012, the Netherlands was in the process of phasing out its assistance to the water and sanitation sector.
- UNICEF supports school sanitation and hygiene, including in Qena governorate.
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- European Investment Bank (2008). Horizon 2020 - Elaboration of a Mediterranean Hot Spot Investment Programme (MeHSIP) (pdf). Retrieved 2009-02-05.
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