Water is a fundamental element for life. Certainly, having access to clean water sources is a human right. By 2025, it is estimated that 1.8 billion people around the world will live in absolute water scarcity. Not only does the climate change stand behind the rise of such challenge, but irrational consumption of the available water resources and shortage of sustainable techniques are also at fault.
With water scarcity, further problems, such as poor sanitation, arise. Almost 40% of the world’s population does not have access to improved sanitation, which leads to poor hygienic conditions, and hence the prevalence of infectious diseases. In Egypt, where the Nile river is the only source of fresh water, there are around 800,000 people who do not have good access to clean water and sewage networks. In poor areas in Upper Egypt, the absence of clean water sources is especially dramatic. People get their water from narrow river channels, which are mostly contaminated.
85% of Egypt’s water resources are used for agricultural activities, and 90% of this by conventional agriculture. The agricultural wastewater, carrying the residuals of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is drained back to the Nile – a vicious cycle.
Sustainable agriculture and water management
As Egypt’s pioneer for Organic farming, SEKEM is of course also fostering sustainable irrigation methods, although Organic cultivation already requires up to 40% less water than the conventional procedure. Depending mostly on well water, SEKEM uses mainly two watering systems: sprinkler and drip irrigation. The subsurface method is only rarely applied, as the technique is not yet developed sufficiently for Egypt. But, SEKEM is conducting different researches on the problems in order to analyze and optimize the system.
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6 aims for “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Besides the sustainable water use in the agricultural field, SEKEM also fosters the processing of wastewater. 100% of the wastewater produced by all of SEKEMs entities is reused, after a treatment with Effective Microorganisms (EM). The grey water goes through a 3-chamber-septic-tank, where the solids are separated from the liquid and EM are injected. EM are provided as a watery mix of 84 aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms, from the family of yeast, lactobacilli and photosynthesis bacteria. With the thereby cleaned water, SEKEM irrigates the green belt of trees surrounding its main farm, and supports the 13 surrounding villages.
Also SEKEMs contracted farmers, located all over Egypt, receive support on sustainable irrigation systems by the Egyptian Bio-Dynamic Association (EBDA). Besides practical instructions, the topic is addressed in regular training sessions and meetings, as SEKEM is convinced that sustainable awareness on the water issue can only be achieved by understanding and background knowledge.
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
As many other challenges, SEKEMs Founder, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, had already foreseen the water problem 40 years ago. Hence, SEKEM took the responsibility and has been fostering sustainable water management and agriculture since its very beginning. Besides the practical activities, SEKEM knows that achieving SDG 6 is quite interlinked with raising the awareness on the topic on individual level. There are still only a few people in Egypt who know and understand that they are already living in water scarcity and therefore have to import 40% of their food. Hence, information and knowledge transfer is of the same relevance as the implementation of strategies for SEKEM. And this holistic approach to cope the water challenge is now already taking place on daily basis in all of SEKEMs institutions since 40 years.
40 years ago, SEKEM was founded with the idea of sustainable development and building of a prosperous future for Egypt and the world. For SEKEM, sustainable development is not a fancy topic to talk about, but the core business. SEKEM commits itself to the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and works to fulfill all 17 SDGs. SEKEM measures its holistic concept with the Sustainability Flower. The flower represents a management, assessment and communication tool symbolizing the concept of sustainable development in its four dimensions: economic life, societal life, cultural life and ecology