April 15, 2014, Cairo – As part of the seventh annual Let’s Take Care of the Planet United Nations conference, the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) at The American University in Cairo (AUC) educated youth on water management techniques and the major issues facing Egypt with regard to water shortage. “A lot of the problems with water management in Egypt are behavioral,” said Andrew Petrovich, research associate at RISE. “If you could educate kids at a young age about how water is used and the role they play in the water cycle, then you can get them to be more engaged in the problem-solving aspect.”The conference, which focused on biodiversity and the environment and was held in Gouna, included participants from 11 to 20 years of age who came from schools all over Egypt, including the Kaumeya Language School of Alexandria, El Gouna International School and Saint Joseph’s School in Zamalek. RISE members helped the young participants come up with development plans for implementing water management techniques in their schools or communities. “We wanted students to begin thinking of ways in which they see waste or inefficiency in their daily life and come up with plans for a solution,” said Petrovich.
Through the conference workshops organized by RISE, students understood the cradle-to-cradle approach to environmental protection, whereby products are designed to be recycled and environmental systems are set up from the start to be efficient and waste-free. “It is important for students to understand that cradle-to-cradle systems are not just something that can be implemented by professionals for resource-scarce rural towns,” said Petrovich. “Our hope is that these students realize that not only are they capable of adaptation and mitigation strategies, but that it is their responsibility to start doing something about it.”
The Let Us Take Care of the Planet UN initiative supports “environmental citizenship,” as described on its website, for children and youth, engaging them in discussions on the environment and protecting the planet. Through this global initiative, each country organizes an annual conference on building sustainable communities and responding to environmental change.
In addition to the Let’s Take Care of the Planet initiative, RISE is working to spread awareness on efficient and sustainable water management in different areas in Egypt. It recently collaborated with the Columbia University Middle East Research Center and the American University of Beirut on a project that focuses on farmers’ responses to water scarcity and climate change, maintaining that it is important to encourage local, grassroots-level initiatives –– including the use of drip irrigation systems and planting crops with low water requirements -–– to help alleviate the effect of water scarcity.
RISE has also installed two sustainable drinking water stations in the Western Desert and established a new drip irrigation system, including pop-up sprinklers, in the Western Desert oases of ElHeiz and Abu Minqar, where sewage water ran into and polluted main water streams. Looking for ideal and sustainable uses of scarce water in these oases, RISE utilized grey water from the local mosques for irrigation.
In addition, RISE has prolonged engagement activities with local communities in different governorates, including the Farafra oasis resource management initiative and the evaluation of water use and irrigation practices in Monofiya governorate. “By getting more use out of every drop of water, whether from the Nile or Nubian Sandstone, communities can take giant steps toward increased sustainability,” said Petrovich.