The Netherlands and Egypt. Two delta countries with many differences as well as similarities. There are good reasons that these countries have worked together intensively in the field of water. This cooperation dates back to the 1970s. Egypt is also one of the delta countries that is supported within the framework of the Partners for Water Programme. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, for a while it seemed as if the collaboration would slow down. But online, activities have continued unabated. And now that a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in November 2020, everything is in place to continue the successful water cooperation between the countries.
Piebe Hoeksma was appointed Delta Coordinator for Egypt at the beginning of 2020. "An interesting year to start a new job," he observes with a smile. "My first meeting was in person. After that, all activities continued virtually." However, having worked at the Dutch Embassy in Cairo for several years, he was already actively involved in the theme of water and could take up his new position easily.
In recent years, the annual 'high level panel meetings' organised by the Netherlands-Egypt Water Panel strongly stimulated the water cooperation between Egypt and the Netherlands. "Ministers from both countries attend these meetings," says Hoeksma, "and although they are only held once a year, it is here that plans and advice are often immediately assessed at the right level so that they can be put into effect."
When the corona crisis erupted, it soon became clear that some things could not continue in the same form. Traveling and meeting in person became impossible and the annual high level expert meetings had to be cancelled. In addition, the previous MoU had expired. "In these circumstances, it was good to experience how cooperation between the two countries takes place at many different levels," explains Hoeksma. "That's also why we quickly decided to maintain contact and to keep each other actively informed about ongoing developments. We could then ensure that our cooperation – at least at a practical level – would continue."
Both countries were putting extra effort into the relationship. And the Secretariat, which in the case of the Netherlands is run by the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), ensured that online sessions were organised. The virtual meetings focused on three main topics: wastewater and sanitation; integrated coastal zone management (ICZM); and agriculture and water. "The sessions turned out to be successful," comments Hoeksma. "Even if the virtual 'expert round tables' were less formal than the meetings with the ministers, they certainly did not come without obligations. They offered us the opportunity to keep up with ongoing developments and enabled us to continue activities at a formal level."
MoUs are needed to directly involve ministers of both countries in the water cooperation. "It is the legitimate basis for shaping cooperation at that highest level," Hoeksma says. That is why he was very pleased that, in November 2020, a new MoU was signed. Ministerial involvement helps speed up the decision-making process and have topics discussed at the right level. "When advising on how to deal with wastewater treatment and its financial aspects, for instance, it helps when the ministers responsible are there in person to approve the proposed steps.”
It has been clear for more than 40 years now that Egypt and the Netherlands value each other's input. This has been demonstrated again during the corona crisis in the continued cooperation. "For many of its water issues, Egypt turns to the Netherlands first for advice,” Hoeksma comments. "We have been involved in water developments in the country since 1976. Dutch expertise and technology are traditionally considered as state-of-the-art. And this offers many new opportunities for the Dutch water sector."
"At the same time, the Netherlands can learn a lot for from a country like Egypt," adds Hoeksma. "Dealing with drought, for example. This is a relatively new issue in the Netherlands. For countries in the MENA region, on the other hand, it has been a well-known challenge for many decades or even longer. Saline water-based agriculture is another topic where we can learn from Egypt. We have vast experience in saline agriculture, and some of our solutions may have found their way to Egypt too, but the real learning experience of how our solutions work under different circumstances and the richness of the input of local knowledge and practices are of immense value for our Dutch partner organisations.”
As both Egypt and the Netherlands are increasingly facing severe effects of climate change in their river delta regions, the new MoU brings an extra focus on climate adaptation. "More and more, we are facing similar climate challenges," says Hoeksma. "But these challenges also create new opportunities. And this MoU will pave the way to work together – at all levels – on fruitful knowledge exchange, smart climate solutions and new business opportunities."
One way to find new opportunities for collaboration may be the new tender for 'technical assistance for remote sensing and geo data for the Nile Delta in Egypt' (information in Dutch). Dutch water companies can respond until 19 January 2021.