A Revolution of the Thirsty

✚ Egypt's Arab Spring: A Revolution of the Thirsty

Great article by Karen Piper in Design Observer on Egypt's water crisis and the disparities in access to clean water between slums, gated communities, and everyone in between:

When Tahrir Square erupted in the winter of 2011, the international news media proclaimed a “social media revolution” spurred by pro-democracy Egyptians seeking to overthrow the repressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak. To a large extent unreported was the fact that the country was also in a water crisis, having dropped below the globally recognized “water poverty” line of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, down to 700 cubic meters per person. It is no exaggeration to say that the January 25 Revolution was not just a revolution of the disenfranchised; it was also what some have called a “Revolution of the Thirsty.” In a land almost without rain, the Nile River supplies 97 percent of renewable water resources, and these days an increasing share of that water is being directed to the posh suburban compounds — where many of Egypt's political elite lives — to support that "greener side of life." Meanwhile, in the years before the revolution, the state water utilities had dramatically hiked rates for residents in downtown Cairo, where some 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

All of this stems from the policy to develop exurbs  — and especially gated communities based around golf courses — that began in the 1990s, with the state subsidizing the cost of bringing water to the new developments while neglecting existing settlements. These new communities, almost always developed in the desert, often advertised themselves as green areas away from the dusty town centers. 

All the while, as water was flowing and taxpayer money shifting to the exurban oases, millions of residents of old Cairo struggled with little access to sanitary facilities. The ostentatious water wealth that made possible the "greener side of life" was becoming a symbol of government corruption. The Revolution of the Thirsty was gathering strength.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.