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Not a drop to drink
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 08 - 2012

An unprecedented shortage in the supply of bottled water leaves the market thirsty, Nesma Nowar reports
Bottled water is a scarce commodity in Egypt these days. Supermarket racks are empty of bottled water and customers often have to visit more than five places in the hope to getting one bottle of water.
��No bottled water" is repeatedly heard by customers entering supermarkets.
The shortage started during the fasting month of Ramadan, but has since escalated. In addition to scarcity, bottled water now costs as much as 40 per cent more than its pre-shortage price. A box of bottled water could now reach LE40 compared to LE23 before Ramadan.
One owner of a supermarket in Cairo's Mohandessin neighbourhood, attributed the shortage in supply to the closure of seven mineral water companies on grounds that they did not meet health and safety standards.
He said that shutting down these companies affected the supply of bottled water in the market and that the remaining companies could not cope with the increased market demand.
��I cannot order any quantity of water now," the owner told Al-Ahram Weekly. "I only can get a maximum of 10 boxes."
As for prices hikes, the shop owner stated that water companies did not increase their prices. Rather, wholesale traders have taken advantage of the shortage to raise prices.
Several supermarkets visited by the Weekly attributed the shortage to the same reason. Ahmed Ali, owner of a kiosk in the Dokki district, said that he did not buy any new bottled water since the end of Ramadan because of its increased price. "I refuse to buy the bottled water at LE32 per box as in this case I would have to increase the sales price."
In June, the Egyptian Ministry of Health shut down seven mineral water companies out of a total of 15 operating�ê�.�ê� The companies were closed after test results from random samples of groundwater wells used by the companies showed they contain water pollutants, including live protozoa.
That is not the only factor behind the current crisis, according to Ahmed Yehia, head of the foodstuffs division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.
Yehia said that an increased consumption of bottled water this summer has compounded the problem. He stated that the extraordinarily hot summer prompted people to drink more water, which in turn increased consumption.
Moreover, he said, bottled water consumption normally peaks at this time of the year, where it coincides with summer holidays. "That is why the shortage is more evident in coastal cities where many Egyptians go to escape the summer heat."
Yehia also blamed recurrent power cuts during summer for the crisis. He explained that power outages resulted in interruptions in the supply of water to various buildings, especially the high-rise buildings. This in turn added to bottled water consumption. "Increased demand accompanied by a decline in supply has led to the current crisis," Yehia told the Weekly.
Yehia affirmed that mineral water companies did not increase prices, with the exception of one company that raised prices 20 per cent. He added that other prices hikes could occur during trade cycles through wholesale or retail sellers. "At the end of the day, bottled water is a commodity that is subject to supply and demand."
Yehia underlined that Egypt's production of bottled water is sufficient for local consumption and the present shortage is "unprecedented" and due to increased demand.
The biggest victim of this shortage has been the tourism sector. Board member of the Egyptian Hotel Association, Haitham Nassar, said that the crisis has negatively affected hotels, especially those in tourist areas, as demand in these areas is high.
He said that hotels that had contracts with any of the seven companies that were shut down suffered the most. "These hotels are witnessing problems in bottled water supply and probably would see price hikes."
Meanwhile, Nassar affirmed that the situation could have been much worse had occupancy rates in hotels reached pre-revolution levels. He explained that the downturn in the tourism sector persists and that occupancy levels remain low.
Yehia expects the crisis to be over within a month when the summer season comes to an end, temperatures decrease, and power cuts -- the result of shortages in capacity in part driven by the strains of the summer heat -- become less frequent.


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