In the run-up to the November 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties (CoP 27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the host nation launched a country platform for the Nexus of Water, Food and Energy (NWFE) program in July 2022. It was a part of Egypt’s 2050 National Climate Change Strategy, announced in May 2022.[i] Egypt is one of the first countries to constitute a holistic approach to their water, food, and energy (WFE)[ii] security through the NWFE program. At CoP 27, the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, said, “The national program for investment in water, energy, and food projects launched by Egypt may reflect Egypt’s transformation towards a low-emission green economy in these three areas.”[iii] The NWFE program provides a framework for implementing climate action projects in Egypt, and the timeframe for its implementation is from 2023 to 2030. The paper discusses the program's significance in tackling climate change and maintaining political stability in the region and the responses of international actors.
The North African region is highly vulnerable to global warming, which is leading to heavier and less predictable rains that are causing dangerous floods and landslides in some regions. At the same time, in other parts, there are prolonged droughts, water shortages, and long, hotter seasons. Particularly, Egypt, due to its unique geographical location facing the Mediterranean towards its north and surrounded by arid and semi-arid regions in western and southern directions, is witnessing sea level rise, increased soil salination, and desertification, which are threatening its food and water security.[iv]
The rapidly growing demand for water and wheat in the past few decades has stressed the water resources and food systems of Egypt.[v] Moreover, there are concerns about reliable water supply from the Nile due to the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).[vi] Over a decade of negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia on sharing the Nile water is yet to achieve a fruitful consensus.[vii] In terms of food security, Ukraine and Russia were providing Egypt with 85% of its wheat, 73% of its sunflower oil, and 23% of its corn imports. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict in 2022, the prices of wheat have sharply increased by 44 %, and that of sunflower oil have increased by 32%.[viii] Further, Egypt’s food security was hit when Russia terminated the Black Sea Grain Initiative[ix] on July 20, 2023. Under this initiative, Egypt could access approximately 1.6 million metric tons of grains, including wheat, corn, and soya.[x] Egypt also largely depends on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Algeria to meet its crude oil demands. Egypt desires to reduce its dependency on traditional energy sources to adopt green energy sources. Therefore, energy transition is another crucial aspect of Egypt’s national development. Egypt must generate a sustainable mechanism to meet its water, food, and energy resources demands.
The devastating impact of climate change on water and food security, the increasing prices of primary food articles, and fluctuations in oil prices due to the Ukraine crisis have increased concerns for President el-Sisi’s regime. The complex interplay of water, food, and energy (in)security may lead to intra-interstate contestations in the region. In this context, President el-Sisi’s NWFE program is critical not only from the perspective of the country’s fight against climate change and global warming but also to the country’s political stability and security.
Egypt’s Water, Food, and Energy Nexus
The NWFE program was conceptualised by the Egyptian Ministry of Environment and is coordinated by the Ministry of International Cooperation. In September 2022, a meeting was convened in Cairo for the Egypt-International Cooperation Forum (Egypt-ICF) in which delegates from international organisations and development banks, including the United Nations, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), and bilateral and African partners participated to discuss the NWFE program.
The program has salient features: First, it aims to accelerate Egypt's national climate agenda by mobilising climate finance and private investments for sustainable and inclusive development. Second, the program includes high-priority projects for adaptation and mitigation in the water, food, and energy sectors. Third, it emphasises the importance of scientific research and technology transfer from advanced economies such as Germany, the United States, and France. Fourth, the program aims to improve the resilience of Egypt’s population vis-a-vis its ecosystem through sustainable water supply, leading to inclusive economic development. Fifth, the governance mechanisms involved in the program include the National NWFE Committee, Ministerial Technical Committees, and the Accelerated "Speed-Track" Clearance Process.[xi]
Under the NWFE program, Egypt launched nine projects with water, food, and energy pillars. These projects were divided into three projects related to irrigation and water worth $1.4 billion, five projects focused on food and agriculture worth $3.3 billion, and one energy project worth $10 billion.[xii] The total investment Egypt received for the program until June 2023 is $2.8 billion for the water pillar, $17.4 billion for the food pillar, and $3.2 billion for the energy pillar, and $3.5 billion for the NWFE+ transport pillar. The water and food pillar projects received investments well above the estimated costs, demonstrating the trust Egypt’s international partners place in the initiative and the significant contribution it can potentially make towards maintaining regional security in the face of climate change. The project's implementation is set to begin in November 2023.[xiii]
The NWFE Program is complementary to Egypt’s ‘Go Green’ initiative conceptualised in 2019, which aims to spread environmental awareness by encouraging the country’s citizens to change consumer behaviours and maintain sustainable lifestyles. Both these top-down and bottom-up approaches aim to achieve inclusive and sustainable development for Egypt.
Responses of International Actors
The international community has provided financial and technical support to Egypt’s NWFE program. The international community has recognised that around 12% of the world’s trade and 30% of the shipping pass through Egypt’s geo-strategically important Suez Canal, connecting Asia to Europe.[xiv] A secure and sustainable Egypt is crucial for a globalised world. Therefore, the NWFE program receives financial support from various entities, including state and non-government agencies. The African Development Bank is Egypt’s partnering organisation for the water pillar.[xv] The energy pillar is partnered with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).[xvi] In contrast, the food security pillar is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).[xvii] In fact, GFANZ is the NWFE program’s Private Finance Working Group.[xviii] The program’s other partners include Africa 50, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund for International Development (OPEC Fund), among others.
Apart from international organisations, countries have also provided financial support to Egypt’s NWFE program. While most financial assistance is devoted to the energy pillar by the United States, Germany, France, and the UK, Japan is the only Asian country aiming for the NWFE’s capacity building.[xix] Though France has also pledged to the food pillar, no other country has extended direct financial support for the food and water pillars. Though Egypt is currently importing wheat from France, Romania, Bulgaria, and Germany, there is still significant scope for India to deepen its bilateral relations with Egypt through its contribution to the NWFE program, given the already existing and growing relationship in the sector.
Source: ‘India: Value of Wheat Exports 2022’. 2022. Statista. 22 November 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/652172/export-value-of-wheat-india/.
The above graph depicts how India’s wheat exports have risen since 2015, touching a high of 2,121 million USD in 2022. India announced in April 2022 that it aims to export 3 million tons of wheat to Egypt in 2022–2023.[xx] During CoP 27, India and Egypt supported their domestic programs that aimed to focus on green energy. Egypt expressed solidarity with India’s ‘LiFE’ initiative,[xxi] while India supported Egypt’s ‘Go Green’ initiative. During the visit of President el-Sisi on India’s 74th Republic Day as Chief Guest commemorating seventy-five years of India-Egypt relations in January 2023, the two countries elevated the bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership. Besides, they noted the importance of strengthening the supply chain of food articles, collaborating to fight against climate change, and promoting sustainable practices in their bilateral trade and development exchanges.[xxii] In June 2023, the Prime Minister of India visited Egypt, where a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare of the Republic of India and the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation of the Arab Republic of Egypt on cooperation in the field of agriculture and allied sectors.[xxiii] The signing of the MoU in the agricultural sector with Egypt also highlighted the possibility of India becoming one of the major suppliers of foodstuffs to the region.
Egypt’s water, food, and energy security nexus is a complex and interdependent challenge that requires a coordinated and integrated approach. The NWFE program represents a significant step towards addressing these challenges and transforming Egypt’s economy while safeguarding its resources and environment. Nevertheless, It is an ambitious program, and it remains to be seen whether it can become a model for other nations to pursue sustainable and inclusive development and contribute to international efforts towards a secure and sustainable world.
The NWFE program launched by Egypt demonstrates its commitment to addressing the intertwined challenges of water scarcity, food insecurity, and energy demand. However, Egypt faces various obstacles in achieving its nexus objectives, for which the international community’s support and partnership are crucial for the successful implementation of Egypt’s NWFE program. The financial backing from various entities demonstrates the global recognition of Egypt’s challenges and its commitment to addressing them. Furthermore, the strategic partnership between India and Egypt can be vital in supporting each other’s water, food, and energy security objectives. India’s agriculture and renewable energy cooperation can contribute significantly to Egypt’s food security and transition towards a low-carbon economy.
*Nikhil Guvvadi, Research Intern, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] MoIC NWFE. ‘Ministry of International Cooperation - NWFE’. July 2022. https://moic.gov.eg/page/nwfe.
[ii] There has been a growing recognition and acknowledgement of their inseparable nature and a need for an integrated management strategy to bolster efficiency as the world is rapidly urbanising and industrialising with an increasing population amid an environmental emergency.
[iii] MoIC. 2022. ‘Ministry of International Cooperation - Dr. Rania Al-Mashat on Signing the Partnership Agreements for the “NWFE +”, “NWFE +” and Green Funding at COP27: Egypt Provides a Model for the World to Shift from Pledges to Implementation through the National Platform for Green Projects “NWFE” Program’. 9 November 2022. https://moic.gov.eg/news/778.
[iv] Soffiantini, Giulia. 2020. ‘Food Insecurity and Political Instability during the Arab Spring’. Global Food Security 26 (September): 100400. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100400.
[v] Terwisscha van Scheltinga, Catharien, Ángel De Miguel, Gert-Jan Wilbers, Hanneke Heesmans, Rutger Dankers, and Eric Smaling. 2021. ‘Unravelling the Interplay between Water and Food Systems in Arid and Semi-Arid Environments: The Case of Egypt’. Food Security 13 (September). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-021-01208-1.
[vi] Ethiopia built Africa’s largest hydroelectric power dam, raising water flow concerns for lower riparian states, especially Egypt.
[vii] Pemunta, Ngambouk Vitalis, Ngo Valery Ngo, Choumbou Raoul Fani Djomo, Sianga Mutola, Judith Achin Seember, Grace Annih Mbong, and Enjeckayang Asomanei Forkim. 2021. ‘The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egyptian National Security, and Human and Food Security in the Nile River Basin’. Edited by Robert Read. Cogent Social Sciences 7 (1): 1875598. https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2021.1875598.
[viii] Tanchum, Michaël. 2022. ‘The Russia-Ukraine War Has Turned Egypt’s Food Crisis into an Existential Threat to the Economy’. Middle East Institute. 3 March 2022. https://www.mei.edu/publications/russia-ukraine-war-has-turned-egypts-food-crisis-existential-threat-economy.
[ix] The Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian Ports, also called the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was an agreement between Ukraine and Russia brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to mitigate the effects of the Ukraine crisis on global food security given the significant contribution of Ukraine and Russia to the global food supply of essential foodstuff.
[x] United Nations. 2023. ‘Secretary-General’s Press Encounter on the Black Sea Initiative | United Nations Secretary-General’. 17 July 2023. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/press-encounter/2023-07-17/secretary-generals-press-encounter-the-black-sea-initiative.
[xi] MoIC. ‘Egypt’s Country Platform for the NWFE Program’. June 2023. https://mmd-moic.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/files/NWFE%20June-2023-.pdf
[xii] MoIC NWFE. ‘Egypt’s Country Platform for ُو نـــ NWFE Program Joint Statement’. 7 September 2022. https://mmd-moic.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/files/NWFE-Joint%20Statement%20-%20Eng%20Vr.pdf
[xiii] MoIC. ‘Egypt’s Country Platform for the NWFE Program’. June 2023. https://mmd-moic.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/files/NWFE%20June-2023-.pdf
[xiv] Myers, Joe. 2021. ‘The Suez Canal in Numbers’. World Economic Forum. 25 March 2021. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/the-suez-canal-in-numbers/.
[xv] African Development Bank. 2023. ‘Egyptian Leader Lauds African Development Bank for Supporting Continent through Tough Times’. Text. African Development Bank Group - Making a Difference. African Development Bank Group. 7 April 2023. https://www.afdb.org/en/news-and-events/press-releases/egyptian-leader-lauds-african-development-bank-supporting-continent-through-tough-times-60303.
[xvi]EBRD. 2022. ‘How the EBRD Became Egypt’s Leading Partner for Renewable Energy’. EBRD. 4 November 2022. https://www.ebrd.com/news/2022/how-the-ebrd-became-egypts-leading-partner-for-renewable-energy-.html.
[xvii]IFAD. 2022. ‘IFAD to Lead the Food Pillar of Egypt’s Nexus for Water, Food and Energy (NWFE)’. IFAD. 10 November 2022. https://www.ifad.org/en/web/latest/-/ifad-to-lead-the-food-pillar-of-egypt-s-nexus-for-water-food-and-energy-nwfe-.
[xviii] GFANZ. 2022. ‘GFANZ Private Finance Working Group for NWFE: Statement of Support’. Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (blog). 9 November 2022. https://www.gfanzero.com/press/gfanz-private-finance-working-group-for-nwfe-statement-of-support/.
[xix] ‘Political Statement on Egypt’s NWFE Platform and NDC’. 11 November 2022. https://mmd-moic.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/files/Egypt%20Political%20Declaration%20FINAL%20%282%29.pdf
[xx] ‘India Aims to Export 3 Mn Tonnes of Wheat to Egypt in 2022-23.’ 2022. Agriexchange Apeda. 18 April 2022. https://agriexchange.apeda.gov.in/news/NewsSearch.aspx?newsid=43130.
[xxi] At the 2021 COP26, the Prime Minister of India announced Mission LiFE to bring individual behaviours to the forefront of the global climate action narrative. LiFE envisions replacing the prevalent 'use-and-dispose' economy—governed by mindless and destructive consumption—with a circular economy, which would be defined by mindful and deliberate utilisation. The Mission intends to nudge individuals to undertake simple acts in their daily lives that can contribute significantly to climate change when embraced across the world.
[xxii] MEA, GoI. 2023. ‘India-Egypt Joint Statement during the State Visit of the President of Egypt to India (January 24-27, 2023)’. 26 January 2023. https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/36148/IndiaEgypt_Joint_Statement_during_the_State_Visit_of_the_President_of_Egypt_to_India_January_2427_2023.
[xxiii] MEA, GoI. 2023. ‘List of Outcomes: State Visit of Prime Minister to Egypt (June 24-25, 2023)’. 25 June 2023. https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/36741/List_of_Outcomes_State_visit_of_Prime_Minister_to_Egypt_June_2425_2023.