Egypt Independent

Ex-officials face allegations of environmental crimes against Nile



In addition to charges of corruption and involvement in killing protesters, deposed President Hosni Mubarak and his cabinet are facing new allegations of crimes against the environment.

Rose al-Youssef Editor Wafaa Hussein filed a lawsuit with the attorney general’s office that was referred to the South Cairo criminal court. In late April, the court began processing the case, although it has not yet set a hearing date.  

Hussein collected over 100 documents and presented them for investigation, including contracts with wealthy investors for landfills and illegal construction along the Nile. The editor has leveled charges of environmental crimes against Mubarak, former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, former Irrigation Minister Mahmoud Abu Zeid, and former Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Prime Minister Youssef Wali.

Hussein argues that these officials abused their authority to facilitate encroachments upon both banks of the Nile, its waters, islands, and canals. These officials are also accused of illicit gains through the sale of state-owned lands along the Nile from Aswan to the Mediterranean Sea. Hussein writes that "this illegal sale of public property, and land, and subsequent constructions, has meant that the Egyptian people are denied access to the Nile, and are even prevented from viewing the river."

Hussein told Al-Masry Al-Youm "these are crimes that have been committed against all Egyptians, since all of us depend on the Nile and its water for survival."  She said "illegal urbanization and industrialization along the Nile for the sake of big business has polluted the river.

"Unplanned construction works on the banks of the river have proven to alter the geomorphology of the Nile,” she said. “The river's natural flow may be affected by such works, and this in turn may detrimentally affect agricultural lands, homes, river bridges, infrastructure and utilities elsewhere down the Nile."

Hussein added that “such violations over the past 20 years have detrimentally affected the purity of the Nile's water, and also the natural biodiversity along the river."

Environmental Analyst Sherif Baha al-Din confirmed that unplanned urbanization has negatively impacted the Nile.

"Cement used to stabilize the river banks along the Nile has indeed affected and reduced biodiversity; this has clearly affected fisheries in and along the Nile," he said

Baha al-Din added that it is not only urbanization which has harmed the Nile; poor agricultural infrastructure – in terms of the dearth of irrigation and drainage canals – has meant that "farmers resort to dumping solid waste, including garbage, sewage and debris into the Nile and its canals."

Clogged irrigation and drainage canals are clearly a problem in areas such as Giza and Dahshur.

"This pollution has a negative impact on tourism, environment and health; it also negatively affects the biodiversity of aquatic life – including vegetation, fish, birds, amphibians, etc.,” he said.

The environmental analyst added that "while domestic sewage, chemical fertilizers and solid waste disposal is threatening, such forms of pollution are not nearly as dangerous as industrial waste," especially liquid pollutants.

"Oil spills from boats and liquid waste from factories are more difficult to detect as they are more easily dispersed into the water…liquid waste is one of the biggest concerns for us as humans in terms of poisoning drinking water, and fish."

In the past two years alone, the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources has reported hundreds of industrial and agricultural violations including illegal construction along the Nile and irrigation and drainage canals. But the ministry has not confirmed whether these encroachments have been removed. Spokesmen from both the Ministry of Irrigation, and the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, could not be reached for comment or clarification.

In an attempt to safeguard the purity and biodiversity of the Nile, the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs designated 144 Nile River islands as a natural protectorate in 1989. These islands are said to cover a total area of 160 square kilometers in governorates along the Nile, from Aswan in the south to the Nile Delta in the north.

According to Baha al-Din, "nobody knows exactly how many islands there are along the Nile. Some islands have emerged and others have been submerged due to erosion, morphology, and other factors affecting the Nile."

The analyst added that not all Nile islands are designated natural protectorates and on some, such as Zamalek, development is allowed.

"Certainly there are islands which are important in terms of nature preservation, conservation and biodiversity, such as the islands around Qena in Upper Egypt.”

Other islands designated as protectorates that are not actually protected include a number near Maadi that are being urbanized against Protectorates Law 102/1983.

"Some islands already had inhabitants, agricultural land, and buildings before they were declared protectorates.

No authority really protects these islands. The law is theoretical and is not actually enforced," Baha al-Din said.

According to Lawyer Mahmoud al-Qady, of the Habi Center for Environmental Rights, "We are confronted with very serious pollution problems from oil and diesel spills emanating from commercial vessels, pleasure boats, tourist establishments and floating restaurants. But the biggest threat comes from the dumping of industrial waste and chemical pollutants into the Nile.”

Egypt is obliged to protect Nile waters under both domestic and international law.

Law 48/1982 concerning the protection of the Nile and inland waterways prohibits the discharge of waste into the river, irrigation and drainage canals, lakes, and groundwater without a license from the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. While Law  124/1983, which concerns fishing, aquatic life and the regulation of fish farms, prohibits the disposal of any industrial wastes, insecticides, and other poisonous or radioactive materials into Egyptian waters. The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982, protects the right to health, sanitation and clean drinking water as fundamental human rights.

"All the necessary legislation is available, it only requires implementation," said Qady, who believes the ministries of Agriculture, State for Environmental Affairs, Irrigation and Water Resources, and the Surface Water Police force should play a more active role in protecting and upholding these environmental laws.

"The authorities do not recognize the gravity of the problems affecting the Nile. Their inaction allows these problems to accumulate. The principle problem is the lack of legislative implementation and enforcement."