Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Freely floating

Compared with the way Americans dealt with hurricane Sandy, Egypt’s tackling of an oil spill in the Nile is amateurish, reports Ahmed Morsy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A five-kilometre-long oil spill in the River Nile was first detected in Aswan early last week, before spreading into neighbouring Luxor, Qena, Sohag and Assiut. The residue of its fragmentation reached Giza on Sunday.
“Droplets of the oil spill reached Giza on Sunday,” Mohi Al-Serafi, head of the media office of the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW), told Al-Ahram Weekly, “despite assurances by the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs that they got rid of the oil slick.” According to Al-Serafi, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are both responsible for the clean-up job.
Al-Serafi added that they analysed a sample of the Nile water every half an hour instead of every two hours to make sure that the water entering water stations was free of any contamination. “Thus, there is no fear of any contamination of the drinking water.”
The Ministry of Water and Irrigation did not deny the presence of residues in the oil spill.
“We examined the course of the Nile in Giza on Saturday and indeed there were small blotches of oil,” Khaled Wassif, spokesman for the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, told the Weekly.
“It is possible that the source of such remnants is not the large oil spill from Upper Egypt. Giza’s oil remains might be caused by leakage of diesel from some boats and yacht engines in the same area,” Wassif explained.
Wassif added that whether the oil residues came from Upper Egypt or were a result of the leakage of Giza boats, there is no risk to drinking water.
Since the Ministry of Environment could not pinpoint the source of the oil leakage in Giza, the source of the one-week-old oil spill in Aswan remains unknown. However, the HCWW filed a complaint against a sugar plant and an edible seeds plant in Edfu, suspecting that both may have caused the spill.
Meanwhile, Aswan prosecution is still conducting an investigation to determine the cause and source of the spill. The Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that the source has not been identified, but that investigations are underway in Aswan.
The Upper Egypt oil spill has been eliminated in Luxor. “The oil spill was successfully removed in Luxor after being diluted,” a source in the Water and Environment Police told the Weekly.
The Ministry of Environment has been working closely with the Ministry of Petroleum to resolve the situation. Equipment from the Ministry of Petroleum was used to clean up oil along the shores of the Nile. On Monday, Environment Minister Mustafa Hussein, Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad and Qena Governor Adel Labib followed cleanup efforts from a Nile boat. Before reaching Sohag, the oil spill slightly decreased due to water plants in the Nile between Luxor and Aswan that helped to shrink the spill. Water was cut off in Esna and Armant as the spill passed, but pumping in central Luxor was not affected.
Afterwards Sohag governorate announced that it had prepared large quantities of sponge to contain the oil.
Mahmoud Nafaa, Sohag’s water company chief, told the state-run news agency MENA a week ago that the company’s laboratories had been put on alert to contain the spill by any means possible. He added that all water stations which may be affected by the spill are to be closed. The HCWW announced on Saturday that the diesel spill spreading north reached Beni Sweif in the early hours of Friday morning, causing four water stations to stop working.
“I’m not surprised by the failure of containing the spill,” Hassan Abu Bakr, environmental expert, told the Weekly. “More than five governorates declared the passing of the oil spill by the Nile’s shores and the only difference was the size of the spill which decreased each time. That means they have not removed the spill nor siphoned it off but divided it among governorates.
“Oil spills happen worldwide, not only in Egypt. But when it repeatedly occurs in the River Nile (the only source of water and cultivation for Egypt), it is considered a disaster,” Abu Bakr added.
“We must understand the reasons leading to the recurrence of such crises and learn how to combat the problem by getting to the root cause. When every governor says everything is fine they are adopting the same old approach in solving problems because everything is not fine and we indeed have a problem.
“After 30 years of Mubarak’s rule, the performance of Egyptians has deteriorated in most government institutions because there is not enough training, development and not enough dependence on technology in many fields,” he added.
The minister of state for environmental affairs on Thursday set up a special task force designed to combat the spread of the spill. A statement released Sunday by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency said the role of the new task force, known as the Rapid Intervention Unit, will be to combat pollution of the Nile.
The unit is authorised to regularly inspect any tourist ship or other facilities that discharge waste into the river, according to the statement. It will have the authority to take legal action against those who violate environmental regulations.

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