CAIRO: There is a precious commodity that isn t traded on any exchange. It is more essential than oil and more useful to the maintenance of civilization than any metal. Yet it is also undervalued and overused and the issues relating to its abuse do not rank highly on in the public s list of political priorities.
This precious commodity is water. Most people have heard experts warn of the inevitable depletion of hydrocarbon resources and the need to explore sources of renewable energy. But with the failure to respect the environment s limited capacity to absorb pollution and regenerate clean water, the depletion of hydrocarbon resources may one day seem relatively insignificant
To investigate and spread awareness of water issues, 20 children between the ages of 11 and 16 visited five governorates to investigate difficulties with water in those communities in a project supported by the International Development Research Center, an agency affiliated with the Canadian government.
The project was run by the Wadi Environmental Science Center (WESC), an Egyptian non-governmental organization with experience in environmental education, and assisted by the Egyptian Water Partnership, the Arab Water Council and the Water Resources and Irrigation.
The children visited communities in Giza, Monofiya, Fayoum, Aswan and Alexandria and discussed water issues with farmers and industry. They then reported their findings to scientists and environmental specialists. After exploring simple solutions to the water problems with the experts, the children returned to the respective communities and shared their conclusions.
The children had prepared their own strategy, says WESC Director Lynn Freiji. They faced the community with quite often a lot of emotions and sometimes some resistance.
The children were also coached on promoting their views. We thought it was important to polish the policy level a little bit more, says Freiji, whereby they need to advocate what for them they believe is their right, which is their water.
A general lack of awareness of water issues in the communities considered was found to be a major challenge, and there was a tendency for miscommunication between government officials and the public on such issues.
The children also reported a general misuse of canals and drains, poor design and management of sewage and contamination of groundwater with sewage. Agricultural areas suffered in particular from a pollution of irrigation water and low efficiency of drainage pipes.
The community members themselves failed to collaborate to address their water problems and there was little proactive action from local authorities. This was exacerbated by the absence of proper monitoring and enforcement of laws.
After their visits to the five governorates, the children attended workshops on chemical analysis and potential solutions. With the assistance of experts, the children then recommended solutions which included building a solar heater, a dew catcher and a solar distiller. These solutions were presented to local communities through exhibitions, seminars and open discussions.
The seminars and discussions included a large number of individuals from civil society as well as farmers and businesspeople, with attendance reaching as high as 200 people for some events.
Ten children from the group will present their findings to the World Water Forum in Mexico City, which will begin next week. The presentation will be followed by a dialogue with policy-makers from Arab countries. A documentary produced by the project will also be featured at the forum.