COLLABORATION

UC Santa Cruz transnational partnership tackles Egypt water crisis

SOURCE: Aaron Burden/Unsplash
Egypt suffers from severe water scarcity in recent years.

UC Santa Cruz is collaborating with the American University in Cairo and nine other Egyptian and US-based universities and industry partners to establish an interdisciplinary research hub to help Egypt mitigate its dwindling water crisis. 

The transnational partnership will establish the Centre of Excellence for Water (COE-Water) in Egypt’s Alexandria University. 

The research hub will be funded by a five-year US$30 million grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Research efforts at the hub will be led by UC Santa Cruz and will focus on water supply and securing funding for research. The hub will also foster collaboration through exchange programmes among Egyptian scholars, water professionals, government representatives, and students with their counterparts in the United States. 

This partnership will be an ambitious effort to improve Egypt’s water supply issues which happens to be one of the worse in the world. 

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As a result of uneven water distribution, misuse of water resources, and inefficient irrigation techniques, Egypt has suffered severe water scarcity in recent years. 

In addition, due to rising population and environmental pollution, Egypt faces an annual water deficit of about seven billion cubic metres. The country has already received a warning from the United Nations that they could likely run out of clean water by the year 2025. 

“For its population, Egypt is one of the most water-poor countries in the world,” said UC Santa Cruz professor of environmental studies Brent Haddad who is also leading the programme. 

“The focus of this effort is very clear: Improve Egypt’s applied research enterprise to make a difference in the lives of Egyptians, and bolster educational opportunities that will prepare students for careers in the water sector.”

“The goal is to connect research and teaching with employment opportunities and industry.” 

Egypt
The partnership includes close collaboration between experts from both US and Egypt. Source: Gelani Banks/Unsplash. 

The partnership also includes other US universities which are Washington State University, Utah State University, and Temple University. 

These institutions will join forces with UC Santa Cruz and American University in Cairo (AUC) which acts as the lead institution based in New York. Together, they will each play a substantial role in the initiative, including developing the governance structure of the COE, building the research portfolio, facilitating student and faculty exchanges, and developing the curriculum. 

As for the Egyptian partners, in addition to Alexandria University, the nation’s largest public universities which are Ain Shams University, Aswan University, Beni Suef University and Zagazig University will also join the effort. 

The COE is one of three similar centres funded by the USAID and housed at an Egyptian public university. While this initiative focusses on water supply, the other funded centres focus on energy and agriculture. 

With more than 20 years of experience in urban water management, Haddad added that he won’t be taking a “top-down” approach to the project. Instead, the starting point will be the existing body of research and planning that has already taken place in Egypt. 

“We shouldn’t discount the excellent research and planning that has already occurred in Egypt,” he said. 

“We need to find ways to integrate cutting-edge water research that’s practical. We need solutions to Egypt’s actual water problems.”

The collaborative research efforts will include discussions on the impacts of climate change on Egyptian natural resources and new water-treatment technologies, including reuse and desalination. 

“Some technologies that aren’t widely used in the U.S. could be a better match for Egypt,” added Haddad. 

Unlike the large water-treatment plants that are usually used in the US, Egypt may be better suited to deploying a large number of small water-treatment plants that use different technology. 

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UC Santa Cruz’s share of the USAID funding which amounts to about US$2 million, includes funds to connect its professors and graduate students with Egyptian researchers, as well as to host Egyptian students at UC Santa Cruz. 

Haddad will also oversee the development of a National Water Research Needs Agenda, a comprehensive effort that will begin with a literature review and includes insights from government, university, and industry leaders about water research. 

Besides that, as part of the initiative, the UC Santa Cruz team will also sponsor webinars for broadcast to Egyptian universities on targeted topics. One of which includes a webinar on the water-management challenges at antiquities and national parks, including the pyramids and temples on the upper Nile River. 

UC Santa Cruz will also lead in research work that involves the production of several papers on research practices and access in Egypt, addressing topics that include increasing women’s access to research careers in water in Egypt. 

Meanwhile, Haddad’s team has been appointed with organising and managing about 40 small-, medium-, and large-scale research projects at Egyptian public universities. 

A Committee on Research and Policy made up of Egyptians and US partners has been established to implement this aspect of the project. 

In December, Haddad hosted US university counterparts for a planning meeting. This will be followed up with a visit from 10 Egyptian water leaders to Washington DC and then to UC Santa Cruz this Spring for a three-day meeting where they will hear from senior academic and industry water experts and finalise a national water research roadmap. 

The initiative is nearly approaching its one-year mark since its initial inception. Haddad expressed optimism that the project will have the impact he desires. 

“We’re establishing a technology-readiness hierarchy for deployment in the water sector,” he said. 

“It’s very exciting.”